It can be wonderful when you fall in love and want to move forward in your commitment to your new partner. However when both you and your new partner already have children from your previous relationships, it will add a few layers of complexity to your relationship and your lives. Blended families, as they are known, can add richness to your life, and as a step-parent you can be a great source of extra support for your step-children. However there are some challenges involved in blended families and being a step-parent. As a relationship counsellor and couples therapist, I work with couples everyday on how to approach step-parenting and becoming a blended family. Here are the some of the important factors to consider.
1. Take Your Time
It takes time to get used to living in a blended family so take things slowly. If you can both spend some time getting to know each other’s children before you move in together it can be helpful, but this might not be possible. You may move in together quite quickly because it feels right for you or because it’s difficult to keep two homes going.The first two years will be about everyone getting to know each other, and creating new family relationships, including your relationship with your partner. At the same time you and your partner are learning to work as a team to care for your children. Be realistic about how long it takes these relationships to develop and manage your expectations. In my work as a relationship counsellor, I find many clients don’t love or even like their step-children at the beginning, and this is normal. You also need to be aware that your stepchildren may not like or love you straight away either and that’s OK. The early years in a blended family are all about creating a predictable, safe family structure and creating a routine for daily life.
2. Prepare Your Own Children
Before you blend your families, it’s a good idea for both of you to talk with your own children about what you want to do and what it will be like. Ask your children what they think and encourage them to talk about any worries or concerns that they may have. Let your children know that there may be some challenges or issues, and that they can come to you if they need to talk. It’s vital that you talk about where you will be living, if you are moving house and what space your children will have. If you’re staying in your house, you could talk about how the space might change when the step-siblings move in. Involving your children in making some decisions about the house or arrangements, will increase their sense of control in the situation. Sharing you with your partner as well as his children may bring up some insecurities in your own children so they may need extra reassurance or affection during this time.
3. Parenting in a Blended Family
When you become a step-parent, it’s normal to wonder whether you should act like a parent from the start, or take a wait and see approach. There’s no one right way to be a step-parent. Over time you’ll find a way of step-parenting that suits you and your family. As a step-parent it usually works best in the first year or two if you spend time being supportive of your stepchild, but not taking on an active parenting role. In the first few years you may find it better for each of you to deal with your own children as far as discipline and parenting goes, with the other partner there as support in the background. It is very important that you both back each other up as a united parenting team, as your children could easily create conflict and undermine your authority if you are not careful. Once you and your stepchildren are comfortable with each other, you can take on more of a parenting role if that’s what you, your partner and your stepchild want. It can take some time to set up rules and guidelines as your two families coming together have different family rules and everyone will still be getting to know each other. It is vitally important that you and your partner discuss any issues that come up with the children together as a team and remain the adults. You and your partner might have different parenting styles and values, so you may need to work through any problems that come up because of these differences.The best outcomes for children occur when parents have warm relationships with their children but firm and consistent boundaries.
4. Consider Your Ex-Partners.
When you move into a blended family situation, your former partners’ may go through a period of adjustment, and they may feel worried, insecure, or upset about the change in circumstances. Even a normally positive relationship may go through some turbulence and conflict. Your former partners’ may need time to adjust to having someone new in their childrens’ lives. It can be easier if you don’t get too involved with each other’s ex-partner at least at the beginning. It’s important to be respectful and mindful of all the other people involved with your step-children. It usually works best when the two parents talk about child care and other issues with each other, especially in the early years. But if your partner’s ex is happy to discuss arrangements with you, it’s fine if you and your partner also feel OK with that. Over time you might get to know and like each other’s ex-partners and to feel comfortable at shared events like birthdays and graduations.
5. Common Issues
As a step-parent, you may feel left out at times, especially in situations where everyone else knows each other and shares that common history. You may find your step-children might reject or ignore you or that they just feel uncomfortable or shy around you. It can be hard to cope with this and to find a way to relate to your stepchildren that works for you both. You might have to deal with negative comments or criticism from your stepchild’s other parent and the extended family. If your step-children’s other parent isn’t happy for you to be around, this could negatively affect the relationship you have with your step-parent. You might feel biased towards your own children, or upset if you think your partner isn’t being fair to your children. Confusion about what role you play in your stepchildren’s life is also common and it will take time for you to discover your identity as a step-parent.
Everyone will have an opinion on what you should be doing as a step-parent but very few people may understand what it is really like. You may find it helpful to connect with friends or acquaintances who have experienced being a step-parent, or attend support groups and online forums for step-parents. Looking after your own emotional, mental and physical wellbeing is key. Being a step-parent can be very challenging and you may not feel that you can say everything you need to your partner, especially if you are having negative feelings towards his children. You may experience intense feelings of frustration, anger, resentment, stress, loneliness and anxiety. In those moments, it may seem that these difficulties may never improve. If that sounds like you, then talking to a professional therapist or relationship counsellor would really support you. Sessions with a couples counsellor or psychotherapist can improve your ability to both deal with overwhelming emotions and manage the everyday challenges of being a step-parent.
Learning to work together with your partner to create a happy, healthy blended family takes time and commitment. Engaging a professional relationship counsellor can make this challenging process much easier to navigate, and improve the quality of your relationship for the long term. If you would like support to create your blended family then contact me now and I can support you to find your way through this new exciting phase of your life. Let’s talk before it breaks.