Blended families mean bringing two cultures together. Each parent had their own lifestyle, rules, and schedule. When we combine two ways of doing things, it’s normal for the family structure to change. Each unique combination of blended families creates many challenges.
Through grief, moving, changes in routine, adapting to new family members, parents and children have to cope with changing realities. Family restructuring is a process that can take several years and that can generate a lot of emotional turmoil for the family members involved.
Possible Reactions to a Family Reorganization
Bringing new people into the family can change the dynamic between a parent and a child. Children can feel that they are losing their special relationship with their parent. They may also feel like their parent doesn't love them as much as they used to, or isn't as available as they were before. Despite the parent's best efforts, children may feel that they are competing with the stepparent or their new siblings.
Children need to know that they are not responsible for the changes in their family and that your love for them is unchanged.
Some kids have a lot of difficulty with these changes. Depending on the circumstances, your child may feel anger, jealousy, guilt, rejection, powerlessness, etc. So it is important to accept their feelings and validate them by being present, available, and empathetic.
What About the Parents?
Adults aren't immune to emotional turmoil either. So it's normal for parents to feel overwhelmed by their own emotions. After all, parents are only human! In this situation, parents can discuss the situation with their spouse and let them know what they are experiencing. If they think it's necessary, they can calmly discuss the topics of concern with the children. However, it’s unrealistic to expect children to be empathetic to their parents. It isn’t their role or responsibility.
A Good Foundation for Blended Families
New Schedules, New Rules
While reorganizing your blended family it helps to discuss the new schedules and house rules with everyone all at once. Then, you can take the time to carefully explain what will and won't change, and involve the kids in some of the decision-making.
Creating Supportive Opportunities
If you want to create meaningful connections with your spouse's children while maintaining a special relationship with your own children, try and create some opportunities to do so. You can plan one-on-one activities and spend quality time with your spouse's children (if everyone is on board), one-on-one with your own children, and sometimes all together!
Establish Equal Rules
For two families to live together, you need an equal set of rules for everyone in terms of living together daily. In other words, our spouse's children and our own children should abide by the same rules. Otherwise, the kids may feel that it's unfair. For example, if we expect our teenager to clean their room, the other parent should expect the same of their children.
Defining and Explaining Parental Roles
Every stepfamily should ask: what role will each parent play? Will it be 50-50, or will each parent have authority only over their own children? Some parents prefer, as an adjustment, to restrict authority to the biological parent for a time. Remember that an adult is often the guide for a child, whether it is their parent or stepparent.
Once the roles are clearly defined, explain them to the children: what each will do, the role and position the parents will have.
“You're not my father (mother)!” Stepparents hear this all the time. A constructive answer can sound something like this: “you’re right, I'm not your parent, but we live together and I care about you. That's why I'm taking the opportunity to talk with you.”
Highlighting the start of this great adventure can be a positive thing! For example, parents can set up new family rituals, new and unique traditions, which will mark a new beginning for everyone and create a new family landscape. Generally, it’s a good strategy to involve the kids when it comes to new ideas!
Finally, during all these changes, it's important to take the time you need to create a family balance. It’s very important to adapt to each child's unique rhythm and needs, as they adapt to their new reality.