An estimated one in five families are stepfamilies or blended families, where at least one parent has children that aren’t related to their partner. While bringing two families together can be exciting, navigating a blended family also comes with its own unique challenges. Here are some ways you can help to make the transition easier for the children of a blended family.
Keep communication open with your child
Depending on the age of your child, they may have trouble understanding what it means to become a blended family. Children may see your new partner or any new stepsiblings as competition. Be sure to give your child sufficient time to express their feelings, and have respectful discussions with them as honestly as possible. Their questions may range from everyday things such as living arrangements and what to call your new partner, or larger concerns that are making them anxious. Above all, reassure your child that you love them and will be there to help them. Your child will need time, so start this process as soon as you can.
Many parents in new blended families often discover that their partner has a different parenting style, which can result in confusion for the children involved. In order to maintain the consistency that helps children to thrive, it’s important to sit down with your partner early on to discuss your parenting values and beliefs, and agree on household strategies and rules that you both can put into practice. Marjorie Engel, PhD, president of the Stepfamily Association of America, suggests that discipline should be handled by the child’s biological parent at first, with the stepparent supporting them. This will help your child get used to their stepparent’s new role.
Be patient and considerate
According to Judy Osborne, a therapist and director of the Stepfamily Association, it can typically take between two to five years for a blended family to become established. Whether there are custody arrangements in place or not, it’s important for your new blended family to take the time to connect with each other. For example, you can create a weekly family movie night, or make sure to have dinner together every day. These routines will help your child gain much-needed stability during the transition, and will allow everyone to bond and form new relationships. This process will likely see some setbacks, but remember to remain patient and respectful.
Manage new sibling relationships
If your child will be living with stepsiblings, this can be stressful and difficult for them in the beginning. There may be issues of jealousy, unworthiness, or confusion about where they belong. As always, being patient and open with your child can go a long way in helping them get used to new siblings. Setting up new family traditions and routines can help all stepsiblings learn to bond with each other. While it’s important to treat all the children in the family equally, it can also help to spend some quality one-on-one time with your child, to reassure them that they are still important to you despite the new family arrangement.
Starting a new life as a blended family can be a wonderful opportunity for your child to develop new and lasting relationships. However, it is also a highly complex process, and one that can be difficult for a child. With these tips, you can help your child navigate the challenges of a blended family.