Is your blended family just like The Brady Bunch? Probably not, because it’s not easy to combine two families into a new unit. Welcoming a new spouse brings with it an explosion of stress-inducing newness, with new stepchildren, new rules, new demands, new religious practices and more. Though you’ll have extra challenges as a blended family, creating a lovely, peaceful home is attainable. Dr. Phil suggests these strategies:
1. Acknowledge the challenge.
All you want is for everyone in your new household to get along, right? But it’s no small feat to combine two families into one as you co-parent with a new partner (along with your old one, whom you should never sabotage). Of course it will take work to figure out how your new family unit will handle money, discipline, childcare and any other issues that you haven't mutually agreed upon yet. It can be an uphill climb at first, but it’s doable once you have a plan.
Certain challenges, however, may be deal-breakers. If, for example, your new partner has made it clear that he is not willing to co-parent or to accept your children in your new home, that can’t be OK with you. It’s your job to stand up for your children, provide leadership, and work toward a solution.2. Come up with a plan. When a family merges, these are some of the topics that need to be discussed:
- The role each parent will play in parenting and facilitating the development of any children.
- The division of labor concerning the kids.
- Expectations in terms of how much space there will be for the couple to do things without children.
- What kind of access grandparents and other extended family members will have.
- Long-term goals and financial planning.
3. Try stepping in your kids’ shoes.
It’s difficult to see things through someone else’s eyes if you haven’t walked in their shoes. Your children or step-children are passengers on this train; they didn’t get the opportunity to choose whether they wanted a new family member, so great care and patience should be taken to help them adapt to the situation. Whether you’re the step-parent or it’s your spouse who’s in that role, talk frequently with the kids about how it’s going and what the experience is from the other’s point of view. If all of you have good intentions and a loving heart, you will work it out — but first you must communicate openly.
4. Have discussions with your spouse outside of an argument.
If most of your discussions are taking place within the context of an argument, you need to stop. Agree to make time to talk calmly and rationally. This is important not only for you as you attempt to reach resolutions, but also for your children or step-children if they are within earshot. If they have already watched a divorce unfold, they have internalized plenty of parental conflict and may be shaken to their core. Don’t make it worse. When you argue in front of children, you change who they are. For you, the fight is over when it's over. For your children, it doesn't end. They don't see you make up, and they don't participate in the healing. They go to bed at night thinking that their parents are fighting because of them.
5. Stop complaining and be specific about your needs.
Tell your partner exactly what your needs are and what you need from him. Do you need to feel more special? Do you want your kids to feel more accepted in their new home? Do you need a different division of labor? Articulate your needs and explain precisely how they can be met. Nobody can read your mind. In turn, you need to ask your partner what is needed from you.
6. Agree on discipline strategies for kids.
Don't assume that your style of disciplining will be appropriate for your stepchildren. It's important that you talk to your partner about the rules and punishment that existed before you joined the family. It's unfair to change the rules on a child overnight.
7. Create a personal relationship with your stepchild(ren).
Make a commitment to developing a relationship with your stepchild that has nothing to do with your spouse. Set aside some special time in which you and the child can interact alone. You also need to stop thinking of your stepchild as “his kid" or “her kid.” Make no doubt about it: You are now a pivotal person in that child's life too.
8. Support your spouse’s relationship with his/her child.
Don’t make your spouse choose between you and his child. Your relationship with your spouse will not suffer if he has a close relationship with a child. We all have multiple “accounts” from which we draw our love. There’s a child account that has an infinite amount of love in it, and there’s a completely different account that you draw from for your spouse. In other words, loving and nurturing your child in no way decreases the balance in the account for your spouse because they're two completely separate deals. With that in mind, ask your partner how you can help him nurture his relationship with a child; becoming his number one support system in building and maintaining it.
9. Form an alliance with your former spouse.
You and your former spouse have not ended your relationship; instead, you have changed it from an intimate, emotional affiliation to a relationship that’s held together by common goals for your children. Joining with your ex, unselfishly putting hurt feelings aside and leaving behind the pain of betrayal or a dysfunctional history are tremendous gifts to your children. To be cold, sabotaging, hurtful or exclusionary with your former spouse is, in some sense, to do the same for your children.