Photo credit: Monkey Business Images Ltd/Monkey Business/360/Getty Images
Getting remarried and starting over can be a very exciting time for parents, but blending families is no easy task. When two families merge, or "blend," to create a new stepfamily, the transition can take time and patience. Blending families comes with great change for kids, and many kids struggle with change. A new bedroom, new sibling relationships to navigate on a daily basis and a new parent in the home can cause anger and resentment. That's just for the kids. For parents, frustration often erupts when the transition doesn't go as well as intended and the marriage gets off to a rocky start.
Changes to family structure involve an adjustment period for all family members. It takes time for a blended family to find comfort with one another and function well together. There's no guarantee that stepsiblings will get along, and sometimes stepparents struggle to establish bonds with stepchildren. Kids are likely to feel anxious about the changes and might even continue to grieve the loss of the family of origin. While a positive attitude on the part of the parents sets the tone for the new family dynamics, it helps to plan ahead and keep the concerns of the children in mind during the transition.
A new parent is a big change for a child. Even though the child likely spent some time with the new stepparent prior to the marriage, a new mom or dad in the house is a lot to process. When frustration strikes and kids feel resentful about the rules enforced by a new parent, they are likely to yell some version of the following: "You're not my real mother/father!" Take a deep breath — this is perfectly normal. What the child is trying to communicate is that he misses his biological parent and feels overwhelmed by the change in family dynamics. Be patient. This too shall pass.
Discussing roles early and often can help kids adjust to change. Acknowledging that the stepparent doesn't replace the biological parent is important. Discussing the actual role of the stepparent and how you will handle things like rules, consequences and important decisions about the child helps the child understand and process the transition. Kids feel powerless in these situations. A little bit of honesty goes a long way toward helping children feel in control despite major changes to family structure.
When a child grows up in a family, the parents get to know the child's personality inside and out. They know what makes the child happy, what triggers frustration and how to parent in a way that fits the child's personality. When stepparents join a family, there is a significant learning curve. And sometimes the new relationship feels like an uphill battle.
Instead of trying to create fun and exciting outings together, try to increase real life 1:1 time. Bonding over everyday situations helps establish a trusting relationship and grounds the new relationship in reality. It also gives the stepparent the opportunity to truly get to know the child on a more intimate level.
Both parents and children need a voice during this period of change and upheaval. While mutual respect should be insisted upon at all times, it helps to establish an appointed time to discuss family functions, verbalize concerns and discuss possible adjustments to improve family dynamics.
A weekly family meeting is a great tool for blended families. Keeping an agenda board for all family members to add to throughout the week ensures that everyone has a voice and opportunity to discuss their concerns at the meeting. Try to choose a day and time that are typically fairly stress free and avoid mealtimes (you want meals to be fun and engaging, not a time for venting frustration with one another.).
Be sure to ask your children to get involved in the meetings and talk about everything happening within the family unit. A proactive approach to coping with the transition helps the family communicate effectively and learn to work together toward establishing bonds and creating a positive home environment for all.