Blended families have become increasingly common in recent years, but that doesn’t mean that they’ve stopped being a challenge for those in them. As you juggle stepparenting, the divorce process, and meshing your families in general, keeping a few thoughts in mind along the way can make for a smoother process and a happier family. You might not be able to avoid problems along the way entirely, but you can work to move past them easily and make issues and misunderstandings uncommon occurrences.
1. Build relationships in all directions.
One of the biggest challenges that a newlywed faces when marrying a parent is building a trusting relationship with their spouse’s children. But your marriage and the new role of stepparent aren’t the only relationships you’ll encounter in a blended family. Becoming best friends with your stepchild’s other biological parent isn’t always an option. But, at the very least, maintaining civility will make the process easier for everyone. If a closer relationship grows, great! If not, ensuring there’s a relationship of some sort is still a step in the right direction.
2. Include children in big decisions.
All too often, adults overlook kids’ opinions and preferences when it comes to major life changes. In some cases, a certain desire might be impossible, like if your child just wants to return to how life was “before.” But even necessary adjustments can be made more tolerable by communicating openly with your children. If you’re thinking about when to pop the question, asking your partner’s child, too, will not just help them feel included, but will undoubtedly warm your soon-to-be-fiancé’s heart. After all, you’re more than a married couple-to-be—you’re a family. You could even find a special (fake) “engagement ring” or another gift for their child or children (and yours, too, if applicable) to make the big change that is a marriage proposal one that’s more manageable. The kids shouldn’t run the family, but giving them the chance to speak their minds will make even the most significant changes easier for them.
3. Communicate across the family.
When it comes to keeping your blended family happy, communication is critical. If you need to reschedule a visit with your child, be open, and mention it to your co-parent as soon as possible. If one of the kids is struggling in school, let all of their biological, step, and adoptive parents know what’s happening. The same goes for communicating with those parents more generally. If you’re keeping lines of communication between households open and show that you’re willing to compromise when necessary, you’ll be less likely to bother your attorney with a misunderstanding.
4. Give kids time and space to adjust.
Whether your partner is a long-time single parent or they’re newly divorced, kids in a blended family have to adjust to a lot of change. This is all the more true when it comes to a new marriage, child custody agreement, or other life change. In addition to communicating with the children and their birth parent, understand that the kids (and adults, for that matter) might take time to adjust. If it really seems to be a struggle, consider visiting a mental health professional to give your children a safe space to process the changes in their life.
5. Know when to bring in the professionals.
Being open, communicative, and willing to compromise is always preferable. But, in some cases, more severe actions are what’s in the best interest of the child. If constant conflicts suggest your child custody agreement needs a modification, the best way to do make changes is through a formal legal process. Even the closest co-parents can fight wildly over parental rights and child support payments. If you or your partner are the custodial parent and aren’t receiving the agreed-upon child support, seek out legal advice to proceed with getting the financial support you need. As Johnson & Taylor, child support attorneys in Salem, OR, explain, “You deserve a financial contribution from the other parent. ” If a blended family member isn’t coming through with their parenting responsibilities, you’re within your legal rights to seek counsel.
6. Be consistent.
If your child custody agreement involves your children living in more than one home, it’s important to be as consistent as possible in terms of rules and parenting. The two households won’t be identical but, by maintaining the most important standards and scheduling between houses, it can be close. You don’t want one parent to become the “fun home” because they’re more lenient with bedtimes and dessert. As you communicate with your co-parents, be clear about expectations and restrictions to be sure your children are receiving the parenting they need wherever they’re staying.
7. Be fair to all the family members.
In some blended families, biological parents treat their birth children better than they do their partner’s child. Other times, the opposite is true—to compensate for that expected bias by focusing their time and attention on building a relationship with their stepchildren. Try to avoid either: you and your partner should treat all of the children in your family as equitably as possible. After all, you’re a united family! Treating everyone fairly can minimize sibling rivalries and help the entire family interact more smoothly.
8. Remember stepparents and second parents aren’t simply friends.
Whether you’ve initiated a second parent adoption, a noncustodial parent has terminated their rights, or you’re a step-parent joined by your partner, their ex, and their ex’s new spouse, you’re a parent in some role. Exacerbated by parents introducing their partner as a “friend,” children may struggle to adapt to their Mom or Dad’s new spouse being around all the time, much less disciplining them or otherwise running the house. Be clear from the start with how this parent-child relationship will work to avoid this added struggle.
9. Find opportunities to bond.
If you, your partner, and your children’s biological parents are on good terms, bonding as a larger blended family unit is a great way to show the kids that you’re all one family, albeit an unconventional one. Browse baptismal candles to gift to your co-parent and their new baby. Plan a trip to the zoo with your partner’s ex-spouse and all of your children. As much as possible, celebrate each exciting moment as a family—be that birthdays, baptisms, graduations, or other special occasions. Even something as simple as a blended family dinner will give you all a chance to spend time together and strengthen your relationships.
10. Learn and grow together.
Maintaining your blended family is a hefty task, and there are bound to be stumbling blocks along the way. When issues arise, it’s the perfect time to learn as a family, taking steps in the right direction. Over time, you’ll all become better at operating as an unconventional family unit, and grow as individuals and as a group along the way. Be prepared to apologize when you’re in the wrong and accept apologies from your family members.
Across relationships, divorces, mediation, and other challenges, a blended family sticks together through the good and the bad. Balancing parenthood, couplehood, and broader family bonds takes effort—at some point, every member will have to go the extra mile in their child’s best interest. By communicating, spending time together, and trying your best to understand your family members’ points of view, even the most unconventional family can thrive.