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Blended Families - Not As Hard As They Look

Five Tips to Effectively Bring Your Families Together.

Are you experiencing challenges with your blended family? Marriage can be challenging and parenting can be challenging, so it is not surprising that marriages with blended families often run into issues, and these family issues can very quickly become issues impacting your marriage.

Here is an interesting way to think about blended families: the first marriage is all about the couple, you and your partner. Then, when you start having kids, it's all about your partner and the family you've created together. That's it.

Marriage number two is actually NOT only about the partnership. A second marriage is not only about your new partner, but it's also about your ex, your partner's ex, your children, your partner's children, your ex's new partner, your ex's new partner's children…that's A LOT of people in the room!

The number of blended families is on the rise. Four in ten new marriages today include at least one partner who has been married before. With at least one-third of all children in the United States expected to live in a stepfamily before they reach age 18, the issue of blended families is an important one.

We counsel many stepfamilies at Foundations. Here are five tips for effectively blending your families together:

· Defer to the bio-parent. The stepparent relationship takes time to develop. It's best if you, as a stepparent, try to support the bio-parent; even if you might not agree with something he or she has done with regards to the child. Stay neutral and present.

· Don't compete with your counterpart. Don't try and be a better mom than the kids' bio-mom or dad. It's important to respect that biological connection. It's much more important to establish a happy, open, and healthy relationship with your stepkids than it is to be another parent in their lives. Don't be authoritarian or too much of a disciplinarian; let the bio parents handle that!

· Relate to your step-kids. Approach them like you would a new friend and find out what interests your step-kids. Find common ground and come up with things to do together that you both will enjoy. You're there to build a healthy relationship with these kids, not necessarily to parent them.

· Get out of the way. Don't be afraid to let your spouse have his or her one-on-one time with the kids. You don't need to be an “instant family.” Allowing your new partner his or her alone time with the kids helps them feel safe, assures them that they haven't been displaced, and supports their independent relationship with their biological parent.

· Act lovingly even if you don't get along well with your step-kids. There is a great deal of pressure to be crazy in love with your step-kids. However, the reality is that sometimes that just isn't possible. Moreover, you can't make your step-kids like you. But remember, YOU are the adult. They don't have to love you and call you “mom.” And, you don't have to love them like they were your own. You can learn to act lovingly toward them. Be kind, supportive, and simply be present. Remember that these kids are often carrying a lot of sadness from their parents' divorce. They might feel abandoned, confused, angry, or displaced. Remember that they might not have the words or the maturity to express themselves. Acknowledge their pain, listen to them, and try to be as supportive and understanding as possible. Over time, you just might find that true love will actually develop!

Fortunately, most blended families are able to work out their problems and live together in harmony. The optimal outcome does require careful planning, frequent open discussions of feelings and thoughts, positive attitudes, mutual respect, and lots of patience. A number of important matters (such as co-parenting, discipline, etc.) should be discussed when deciding to bring two families together. By dealing with these issues before joining the families, you can help mitigate potential problems from arising.

Taking part in our stepfamily and blended family counseling will enhance and build your skills around developing healthy boundaries, dealing with differences, and most importantly, communicating in an open, trusting, and respectful manner. Investing the time with counseling for your blended family can help get you off to the right start or get you back on the right track. Call us, because ultimately, your marriage and family will benefit.