Parenting and family relationships can come with all sorts of challenges, and blended families are no different. Some of the unique challenges that those who form this type of family may face can be difficult, but their experiences can also be highly rewarding. If you’re part of or considering forming a blended family, the tips we discuss here could help you set yourself and each member up for success.
What Is A Blended Family?
Statistics indicate that as many as 1,300 new blended families are formed each day in the US. This type of family can face a set of challenges that non-blended families may not, which is why specific tips and resources that address this unique experience can be so important. Examples of these challenges may include:
Children having trouble adjusting to a new living situation
Children having trouble adjusting to having new siblings
Addressing disagreements about family rules or routines
Merging parenting styles
Handling any conflict with biological parents who are former partners
Tips For Helping Your Blended Family Thrive
Each family’s situation is different. That said, there are some general strategies you might consider that could help the members of your blended family feel seen and cared for and to smooth the transition of combining households and/or family time.
1. Give It Time
Combining families—especially if this entails combining households—can feel a bit chaotic at first, in some cases. It can take time for the members to adjust logistically, emotionally, and in other ways, so patience and compassion along the way are generally key. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry suggests that it often takes between one and two years for blended families to adjust to the new situation. While this can seem like a long time if you’re just starting out in this process, know that you’re likely to see positive progress and milestones along the way. Staying consistent, being mindful of the changing needs of the child(ren) involved, and reminding them that they are loved and listened to can all be especially helpful during this period.
2. Provide Structure
Children can be very adaptable and resilient in the right environments. To provide them with the support they need as your family transitions, it’s often helpful to ensure that there is structure and routines in place. Consistent bedtimes, chores and responsibilities, regular family bonding time, and a stable living environment are all examples of these that you and your partner can set up in order to benefit the children you are now raising together. As they adjust to all the changes in their lives, these predictable structures can help them feel grounded. Plus, routines can benefit kids over the longer term, too. For example, research suggests that children who have a consistent and early bedtime may experience improved sleep, increased emotional stability and language development, healthy parental attachment, and other potential benefits.
3. Remain Flexible
Although structure is important, sticking to it too rigidly and not allowing for feedback and changes can cause problems. Sometimes, the way you originally envisioned some element of your blended family’s life might not end up being realistic. Leaving room for changes in plans and new feelings that may arise can be helpful.
For example, putting too strong an emphasis on bonding time as a family right away might be too much for some children, especially adolescents and/or those who are having an especially difficult time with the transition. So even though you may have imagined engaging in this type of close family time every other night, adjusting your expectations to give the children a bit more space at first could go a long way towards easing the transition over the longer term.
4. Manage Relationships With Exes
If both partners are bringing children from previous relationships into a new blended family, there’s the potential for two ex-partners to continue being involved in their lives. Those who have custody agreements with co-parents in the same area may have to interact with their ex and/or their partner’s ex frequently. Doing your best to keep these relationships cordial, stable, and calm will typically benefit the children and help avoid conflict.
5. Keep The Lines Of Communication Open
The value of communication is often emphasized when discussing relationships of all kinds, including blended family relationships. Setting aside time to regularly check in and communicate about how things are going can ensure all members have the chance to say their feelings, frustrations, suggestions, and requests about the new family dynamic. Making sure everyone feels comfortable saying and understanding that their opinions are valued can also help. This could be achieved by teaching children about what it means to practice active listening, setting rules related to respect, honesty, interrupting, etc. when someone else is talking, and inviting everyone to set and communicate their own boundaries as needed.
6. Speak With A Therapist
Parenting can be hard work, and blended family dynamics can present additional unique challenges. If you and your partner are experiencing these, you may benefit from speaking with a trained therapist. They can help equip you with the tools and techniques to approach problems that may arise and to keep your relationship strong.
Many people with children find it difficult to arrange their schedules to attend regular in-person therapy sessions. In cases like these, online therapy can represent a viable alternative. With an individual online therapy platform like BetterHelp—or ReGain, for couples—you can get matched with a licensed therapist who you can meet with via phone, video call, and/or in-app messaging from the comfort of home or anywhere you have an internet connection. Research suggests that online therapy can be as effective as in-person sessions in many cases, so it may be worth exploring this option if it’s more convenient for you.
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