If parenting in nuclear families is difficult (and it is), imagine co-parenting in blended families! Custodial transitions, different parenting styles, scheduling with the other biological parents, and combining family values leads to a completely foreign landscape! For parents and stepparents, the challenges seem insurmountable. But having realistic expectations can lower stress, allowing you to move toward successful integration. For instance, expect stepchildren to test you. And expect that it takes, on average, four years to establish optimal blended family functioning.
Good Co-Parenting Requires Whole-Hearted Communication Among All Parties
Ongoing communication between remarried spouses is key to a unified blended family. That includes discussions about parenting styles, agreeing on what’s working well and what needs a new approach. Above all, remain caring and open despite differences in parenting and disciplinary perspectives. Most importantly, expecting good communication, trust, and respect from all family members creates an environment beneficial to the safety and the development of healthy relationships. Make sure to set aside alone time as a couple which includes date nights to strengthen your bond without the pressure of parenting.
Listed below are some ideas to make blended family parenting successful:
1. BUILD INDIVIDUAL RELATIONSHIPS. Take things slowly and get to know your stepchild’s personality. Spend time connecting in mutual interests. Alone time in the car while driving your stepchild to and from activities is a great time to have a meaningful conversation. Just be sure to give him or her a way out if it becomes uncomfortable.
2. ALWAYS SPEAK OF THE OTHER BIOLOGICAL PARENT WITH RESPECT. Although you may feel negatively toward your new spouse’s ex, refrain from any disparaging comments. Their child wants to be loved by and allowed to love both parents. Disparaging the other parent will only trigger resentment toward you.
3. EASE INTO FAMILY LIFE GENTLY. It will take time to see how your personality styles will mesh. Going into a blended family with the goal of “fixing” or creating the perfect family will backfire. Making too many changes can increase tension and strife. Go slowly, sometimes allowing your stepchild to take the lead in showing affection. Allow them to decide on a respectful name to call you. Pick your battles and don’t make too many demands (except respect). And remember not to take things personally.
4. ALLOW THE BIOLOGICAL PARENT TO BE THE PRIMARY DISCIPLINARIAN. The stepparent plays a supporting role with input into parenting choices. However, it’s important for the biological parent to have the final say with disciplinary decisions and implementation. As the lead parent with their child, they set the standard for their child to show respect toward the stepparent. They can also explain the difference between respect and love (which will take some time to develop).
5. SUPPORT CHILDREN’S TRANSITIONS. The feelings that children experience during their parents’ divorce resurfaces during remarriage. Anger, loss, confusion, resentment and abandonment are tough emotions to work through for adults much less children. As are conflicting alliances. Custodial transitions often produce meltdowns. Allow extra time for children to talk about their feelings without blame or shame.
6. LIGHTEN UP. Use laughter as a tool to strengthen relationships and reduce the challenges of blended family life. Think of some games and “inside jokes” that you can use with your stepchild. Make sure to encourage and reward! An open, positive approach will make everyone’s life a little easier!
7. PRACTICE SELF-CARE. Have a friend, neighbor, or another parent to talk with when things get difficult and you need advice or just time to vent. Identifying activities that revitalize you when you need respite; exercise, reading, massage, prayer, or a night away may help lend a change in perspective and refill your tired soul.