After a period of single parenting, a divorce, or the loss of a spouse to death, many adults find themselves desiring a committed relationship and if found, that may lead to marriage and the blending of two families. Even if the children involved are excited about the new union, there are some challenges. Understanding some of those challenges and being prepared to respond to them effectively can help a family blend well.
1. Recognize that the blending of families represents a gain and a loss at the same time for all family members.
While new spouses and family members may be excited to start a new family unit, kids will often fear that this new beginning will mean the loss of all traditions and rituals they enjoyed in their previous families. Therefore, it can be helpful for both sides of the family to talk about the traditions they want to keep. Parents should help kids adjust to the other changes that often come with the blending of families such as changes in homes, schools, and friends. As much as possible, parents should allow kids to bring furniture and other personal items from the previous home to the new home, help them stay in the same schools and provide opportunities for friends to visit their kids in their new homes.
2. Understand that it is very normal for kids to turn against the new parent shortly after the partnership or marriage becomes official.
Often, even when a child has been very happy about a parent’s future partner, the child will start to reject the partner once he or she is an official part of the family. This is because, in the mind of many children, nobody is good enough for the child’s parent, he/she is afraid of the absent parent being replaced or the new marriage ends the child’s fantasy that his parents may get back together. In this case, patience with the child’s changing attitude is suggested and it can be helpful if the new parent acts to intentionally connect with the child without expecting the child to reciprocate. Over time, most children will soften toward the new parent and new relationships may be built.
3. Since blending families is complicated, most families can benefit from counseling to help them learn how to blend successfully.
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFT’s) are specially trained to work with couples and families and have many strategies to help blended families become a healthy family system. Often, several sessions with a LMFT can prevent families from experiencing pain and hardship related to blending families and learn tools for communicating well and managing future conflicts.
4. Work together to form new traditions, rituals and boundaries.
Just as it is important to retain some traditions and rituals from each part of the family, it is also important for all family members to be involved in starting some new traditions that celebrate the new family unit. Brainstorm ideas together.
Also, it’s important during this time of blending families together to remember Asset #11: Family Boundaries. Since the family is attempting to come together in new and meaningful ways, it’s imperative to discuss the different boundaries and expectations each may have for acceptable and unacceptable behaviors. It’s recommended that parents sit with their kids and discuss these rules and consequences before making any final decision. Once this family discussion has taken place, parents should finalize these boundaries and present them to the children together.
5. Focus on strengthening the adult partnership.
Strong family units begin with strong adult partnerships. The stronger the adult relationship, the stronger the family will be and the more prepared and equipped the adults will be to manage the conflicts that arise within the family.