Keeping Kids In A Blended Family Happy
The blended family has become so common that it almost doesn’t need its own special name anymore—it’s basically the new normal family. Considering how many couples get divorced, and how many of them have children, it should come as no surprise that very often, two divorced individuals with kids find each other, fall in love, and proceed with a second marriage. This can be, of course, tumultuous and very emotional for the children. They were just accepting the idea of their parents no longer being together (and perhaps they don’t accept it yet), and now they need to embrace a new authority figure, new siblings, and several new dynamics taking their parent’s attention away from them. Blended families are not what “The Brady Bunch” makes them appear to be. In reality, wounds take much longer to heal and the cleanup can be messy. Here are important tips to keeping your kids happy in a blended family.
Mandates should come from you (at first)
Your kids are used to taking direction from you—not your once-boyfriend-now-husband. They won’t take kindly to a new authority figure quickly, and it’s good if they slowly transition from seeing your partner as a buddy to a parent. So, if your partner has a mandate he’d like to pass onto the kids, have him pass it along to them through you. At least at first.
Mimic old accommodations
Do your best to mimic previous accommodations. If one child has always had her own room, try to keep it that way. Don’t force stepsiblings to share a room. They’re already sharing a house—that’s enough of an adjustment for now. Bring your kids’ favorite furniture, decorations, and other items to help them feel at home in their new house.
Get the kids to help each other
Get the children to help each other. Ask your kids’ stepsiblings to help them with their homework, or comfort them when they’re upset. Show them that they are actually great assets to one another. Show them they just gained more love by blending families.
Get the kids to work together
Give the kids tasks to do together, like washing your car, putting away dishes, doing laundry, or making the dinner salad. They’ll bond over doing chores together. If you must, let them dislike you/be annoyed with you together. A common enemy brings kids together.
Spend alone time with your kids
Carve out alone time with your biological children. Don’t overdo it—you don’t want the families to feel separate—but maybe twice a month do something special, just with your kiddos.
Let the elder be the elder
Your oldest child may no longer be the oldest in this blended family. Make sure she still feels respected, and stop any behavior on the new older kid’s part that makes your eldest feel like a baby.
Let the baby be the baby
Your youngest child may no longer be the youngest one in this new family. But she is still young and needs your attention and guidance. If she’s still in the handholding phase of childhood, don’t end that too quickly, just because there is a new, younger kid in the mix.
Everyone weighs in on family outings
Have everyone weigh in on and plan family outings together. You can sit down every week, and decide what fun thing you’ll do as a family that weekend. Take the focus off of what you used to do, separately, and enjoy making new plans.
Write down new rules
Write down new house rules. Make them very clear, so everyone knows what they are. Discuss these extensively with your partner before setting them. Rather than focusing on disciplinary action, start by talking to your partner about what values you want to encourage in your kid. Decide on disciplinary actions and rules that support those values.
Let kids question the rules
Hold an open forum during which the kids can question the new rules. It’s important that you show your thinking on these rules, and the kids feel that their voices are heard.
Share your old traditions
You can still have some of your old family traditions—so your kids don’t miss them—but share them with your new family. Your partner can share his family’s old traditions with yours.
Develop new traditions
Develop some new traditions as a family. Find a new place you vacation together each year or a new special dish you make for holidays. Show your kids that this new family is an opportunity to come up with new, fun traditions, and that they don’t need to say goodbye to old ones, either.
Don’t expect changes overnight
Be patient—very patient. Most blended families require multiple years to reach some sort of equilibrium. Expect growing pains, and don’t overreact to them. It’s normal for your kids to act out and react. Don’t be too hard on them when they do. Any child would under these circumstances.
Don’t bad-talk your ex
Keep your negative thoughts about your ex to yourself. It’s important that your children don’t feel that they’re betraying their father in some way by participating in this blended family. Being party to your negative talk can make them feel that way.
Get the ex and new partner together
If you can, get your new partner and ex to hang out, in front of your kids. Show your kids that their family isn’t broken or compartmentalized; it’s just expanding. Look, they won’t be friends—it’s not really natural—but they can put on a show for your kids.