Blending a family is a joy but can also be a challenge. Nicholas Strouse, director of Westport Family Counseling, advises that basic family issues are often intensified and compounded when confronted by blended families. The key to success is to remember that all families have obstacles -- just because your family’s issues may be different, they are not impossible to deal with. Keep this list in mind next time you feel panicked, overwhelmed, or just plain unprepared.
1. Focus on communication.
Being the stepparent comes with its own unique challenges: Things that may feel innate with your birth child, like enforcing manners and responsibilities or setting limits with money and discipline, can become murky when you try them out on your stepchild. Talk with your partner and approach the new relationships together. “Without communication, you’re going to crumble. If you can’t talk to and support each other, you’re going to have a real problem,” says Diana Lesire Brandmeyer, coauthor of We’re Not Blended, We’re Pureed, a Survivor’s Guide, and parent of a successfully blended family. Once you and your partner are in agreement about how to handle the new environment, feel free to invite your children to be a part of the conversation.
2. Set and respect boundaries.
We all fall prey to unrealistic expectations. “Your family is not going to be the Brady Bunch,” says Marty C. Lintvedt, coauthor of We’re Not Blended, We’re Pureed, a Survivor’s Guide, and a licensed professional counselor. While you might be ready to embrace your stepchild, he or she may not be prepared for the change in dynamic. Strouse suggests combatting this issue by focusing on the child and setting hurt feelings aside, hard as that may be. “It feels uncomfortable and painful,” he says, “but it’s part of the process. Focus on giving the kids more of a voice, and make them feel safe to articulate how they’re feeling.” Even if your feelings get hurt, remember: The children have to come first.
3. Emphasize teamwork.
You want your new family to feel like a unit, like together you can take on the world. This can mean different things. While some families want to change their last name to reflect the new blend, it’s not always a possibility. “Establish that you are a family no matter what anyone calls you,” Brandmeyer advises. “Names don’t matter, as long as you are all on the same page,” Lintvedt adds. At the end of the day, feeling like a team starts with the parents, so do your part to set your new family up for a big win.
For more: Marcelle Soviero tells her story about her wedding day, when two families blended into one.