When we think of the traditional American family we tend to picture Mom, Dad, a couple of kids and the family dog. However, the typical family structure in the United States is rapidly changing.
According to Pew Research, just 46% of kids younger than 18 live in traditional families with two married heterosexual parents in their first marriage.
Blended families – families consisting of a married couple and children from a previous marriage – are becoming increasingly prevalent in society.
This isn’t a bad thing. It shows that it is possible for people to find love again after their initial marriage didn’t work out.
However, it is important to acknowledge the unique challenges these families face. Here are 5 tips for successfully blending families.
Have an honest conversation about finances
One of the biggest sources of strain for any family is money, and even more so for blended families. According to an Allianz survey, more than half of blended families say they live paycheck to paycheck.
When families blend, spouses tend to comingle their accounts without much consideration. For some families it would make more sense to keep separate accounts or establish a joint account for their new life together while leaving other accounts separated.
Blending a family can also lead to complications to your estate plan and can result in modifications to child support or spousal support orders.
Before you make any major decisions, sit down and have an honest discussion about your financial standing. Establish clear financial goals and strategies for moving forward. For some couples, it might make sense to consider a prenuptial agreement.
Establish parenting roles
It is extremely important for you each to have a clear understanding of your role as a parent and stepparent.
Discipline can be very tricky in regards to stepchildren so you will want to establish ground rules for the household. Come to an agreement on curfews and homework time.
It might also be a good idea to let the biological parent handle discipline issues of their children. If a stepparent tries to be an authority figure too soon, it can quickly create feelings of resentment from the stepchildren.
Let the biological parent and child(ren) communicate one-on-one
While it is important for the stepparent to play a key role in parenting in blended families, it is also wise to let the biological parent communicate one-on-one with their child(ren) about concerns they might have.
This is an enormous adjustment for kids to make, and they’re likely to have a lot of questions and maybe a few fears about this new person who is now such a big part of their life.
It can be reassuring for them to know they can go to their biological parent to talk about anything. That’s not an indictment on you as a stepparent and providing them with that outlet can foster a much healthier relationship in the long run.
Be an active stepparent
While it’s a good idea to give your stepkids some space as they get to know you, you still want to take an active interest in their lives.
There are a million subtle ways you can do this. Show up at their school plays and ball games. Offer to cook them their favorite meal or take them to their favorite restaurant. Try to find a common interest you both share.
It might take some time for them to warm up to you, but if you’re consistently there for them and supportive, they’re bound to notice.
Be realistic and patient
The fact of the matter is your blended family is probably going to be much, much different from the family you had in your last marriage. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
Embrace that uniqueness. Treat your stepchildren like they’re your own kids (because they are) while acknowledging that your relationship with them is different than the one they have with their biological parents. Your bond is still special.
Patience is also a must. No family is perfect, and in a blended family there are bound to be ups and downs and the occasional miscommunication. Know that going into it and don’t overreact when there are hiccups.