Navigating Remarriage and Blended Families
If you’re like most parents, you probably spend a lot of time thinking about how to raise your children. Parenting might just be the hardest job on Earth, but it can be especially hard in times of significant change or adjustment. For this reason, blended families (families that involve stepparents and stepchildren) can experience unique challenges.
The process of combining two separate families into one can be rocky and will almost always take more time than you want it to. Be patient and stick with it! The challenges that face blended families are unique, but with approximately 40% of American families involving stepparents, you are certainly not alone. Here are some guidelines for managing relationships, communication, and parenting expectations through second or third marriages.
Let Go of Guilt
It’s common for people to feel guilt over the end of a marriage, especially when it comes to how it affects their children. While it’s good to keep in mind how your actions affect your family, it’s also important to remember that a marriage coming apart isn’t always a bad thing. Leaving an unhealthy marriage is difficult, but it also shows your children that staying in an abusive or otherwise unhealthy relationship is wrong, and that sometimes you have to make the right decision even when it’s hard.
If you hang onto guilt over how your previous marriage ended, you will carry that guilt with you into a new relationship in ways that can affect your parenting. You don’t have to pretend to be perfect, but you also don’t have to make parenting decisions out of guilt. Parenting decisions made out of guilt can lead to relaxation of rules and the temptation to spoil children.
Take Your Time Moving Forward
When it comes to moving forward with a new relationship and considering remarriage, the best rule of thumb is not to rush into anything. Remember that the honeymoon phase of a relationship can last for 12 to 18 months. During that time your body is producing oxytocin, which can cause people to focus on the good qualities of the other person while ignoring the bad ones. Rushing into a marriage while you’re still in this honeymoon phase of the relationship can cause you to overlook issues that will cause problems in the future.
Seek the advice of trusted friends and family members when it comes to a new relationship. Make sure that your loved ones spend time with this person and get to know them as well.
Lay a Strong Foundation
Taking your time getting remarried also gives you the time to lay a strong foundation between stepparents, stepchildren, and stepsiblings. There’s no need to go from zero to sixty when introducing a new person (or people) into your children’s lives. Take time to get to know your spouse’s children and to let them know yours. Avoid the temptation to make every outing together a special occasion and instead try to ease children into everyday activities that include these future family members.
Discuss and Decide on Parenting Style Together
Once you’ve decided to remarry, it’s important to sit down with your spouse and discuss your individual parenting styles and decide how you will co-parent your children. If you take the time to discuss and decide ahead of time, you are less likely to run into major parenting issues in the day-to-day running of your home. Try to implement any parenting changes you decide on before you remarry. This will make your children less likely to view their new stepparent as the source of unwanted changes.
Set Clear Expectations and Be Consistent
After you and your spouse have decided on a parenting style, it is crucial that you set clear expectations for behavior in your household. Sit down with your children together and communicate what the values of your home are and how you expect the members of the family to behave in your home. Make sure that these expectations apply to everyone equally and are enforced in the same way for everyone.
Present a United Front
Children seem to be born with the innate ability to pit authority figures against one another. Whether it’s parent against teacher, parent against parent, or parent against stepparent, on some subconscious level children know that to divide is to conquer. This is why it’s important to show your children that you and your spouse are on the same team.
This doesn’t mean that you must always agree with each other on every parenting decision, but it does mean that you should not reprimand your spouse in front of your children or undermine their authority. If you disagree with a parenting decision your spouse has made, take the time to discuss it with them in private. Listen to their reasoning and communicate why you disagree. Once the two of you have reached a decision, communicate your decision to your children together.
As much as possible, handle things together. Avoid the temptation to let each spouse handle discipline for their own children exclusively. Your spouse might take the lead when addressing an issue with their child, but it’s still important for you to be a part of that conversation. You are parenting together and your children need to see you making decisions together.
Be a Parent, Not a Buddy
Both parents and stepparents can fall into the trap of treating their child or stepchild like a friend. Your child doesn’t need another friend, but they desperately need a parent they can count on. The more consistency you provide as a parent, the safer and less out of control your children will feel. You can be kind and patient and honestly share some of your own feelings without treating your children like they are your peers.
Allow Children to Express Their Emotions
Giving your children a healthy way to express what they are feeling can help prevent them from acting out. Set aside time without distractions to talk to your kids and ask them to share their thoughts and feelings. When they express themselves, be a good listener. Let them know that they are being heard and that their feelings are valid. Don’t try to tell them how they should feel. Accept how they do feel and talk about why they feel the way they do and if there are any changes that can be made as a family to help them feel better. While you and your spouse should continue to make family decisions together, letting your children know that you care about their feelings and opinions and take them seriously can go a long way towards making your children and stepchildren feel like they are integral parts of the family.
At the end of the day, the transition to being a healthy, happy blended family just takes time. Be patient, especially when it comes to your children and stepchildren. You might feel that you are giving a lot of love, attention, and affection to your spouse’s children without seeing many results. It can be frustrating when children don’t respond the way you want them to, but remember that they are in a situation in which they have very little control. Your consistent kindness and patience are making an impact, even if it takes a long time to see it.