Blended families are formed when two people start a life together and bring children from previous relationships. Each blended family encounters its own set of problems and requires its own unique solutions because of the complex mix of the members of the blended family.
Adjusting to a new family dynamic can take time, but with patience, open communication, and prudence, families can build a functional family dynamic. Family members might be apprehensive about changes, and there are a few items to keep in mind while transitioning into a blended family.
Building a Strong Family Unit
The day-to-day living will vary for each household. It takes time to adjust to a new family dynamic. Learning to work together takes effort from everyone in the family, and that will not come overnight. Be understanding and flexible when it comes to developing new family routines. No one has all the answers right away, so it is important to be realistic about how long it might take for the family dynamic to become more cohesive. Families must be prepared to have open discussions about expectations and challenges that may arise within the family.
Food and Mealtimes
Mealtimes can be opportunities for families to form bonds with one another. Finding out what foods each family member likes and dislikes can make dining together, a pleasurable experience. Preparing a family member’s favorite meal for a special occasion (i.e birthdays or graduations) is a subtle way of telling a person that they are special. Table manners and hygiene might seem trivial, but it could be beneficial to discuss over a period of time. A comment about a family member’s habits or mannerisms when they eat can potentially cause a blow-up.
Household Chores and Responsibilities
Each family has its own way of completing household chores and responsibilities. Finding a way to blend both family’s methods can eliminate misunderstandings and establish a routine for a blended family. Finding out each person’s abilities and strengths so that all tasks are manageable can be an effective strategy. All chores should be age-appropriate, and each person should have an equitable amount of chores if possible.
Children can be resistant to step-parents giving them orders, so it is imperative that parents and step-parents establish a healthy way of communicating about household responsibilities. Completing chores with children is a great way for parents and step-parents to build the children’s confidence and capabilities.
Territory and Personal Space
Adjusting to changes in the territory and personal space is one of the most difficult parts of adapting to a blended family. Personal territory changes and living arrangements can pose turf problems, so it is imperative that these things be handled carefully and collaboratively. Ideally, blended families will move into a new home where each family member can have new spaces that they can personalize. Unfortunately, moving into a new space is not always possible.
It is not uncommon for the step-parent/siblings to relocate to the other spouse’s home. If that is the case, family members might feel as though their designated space is being invaded, which can lead to resentment or resistance. However, there are ways that families can reset the house. Something as small as a fresh coat of paint and new curtains can give the home a sense of newness.
When it comes to finances, blended families are responsible for managing a mix of liquid cash, debt, alimony, child support, assets, taxes, and prenuptial agreements (if applicable). Money management and financial decisions can make or break a family, so it is best to have conversations about finances in advance. Some couples have joint accounts, while others prefer to keep their accounts separate. Either way, it is imperative for spouses to be transparent, especially if alimony and child support are paid to or received from an ex-spouse.
Discipline is likely to be the area of most disputes between parents and step-parents. Children that are accustomed to one type of discipline have to adjust to another, and that can prove difficult for everyone involved. Parenting techniques usually evolve over time, but step-parents are faced with the challenge of entering into the family when that evolution is well underway. It is important for both parents and step-parents to decide how discipline will be carried out in the household.
Presenting a united front when enforcing rules and boundaries is vital as well, in order to prevent children from pitting one parent against the other. Discipline should focus on how the child can improve their behavior and not solely on what they have done wrong. Although parents might favor their biological children, it is important to remember that each child should be disciplined fairly and equally.
Blended families will undoubtedly face a number of adjustments and challenges as they begin their new life together. It also presents a great opportunity to establish new traditions together, as well as building healthy and lasting relationships. While the smallest matters of everyday living can end up being common sources of conflicts for blended families, established mutual respect and flexibility can prove to go a long way during this process. There will likely be many moments of uncertainty and frustration throughout the adjustment process, but those issues can successfully be worked through with open-mindedness, flexibility, and the willingness to participate as an intricate part of a family system. Here, at Valiant Living, we offer a variety of services, including both individual and family therapy, marriage intensives, and individual counseling. To learn more about Valiant Living, and what we can offer to you through therapy services, contact us at (303) 952-5035.