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Top 5 Tips for Blended Families

Family, Counselling, Therapy, Couch, Talking, Step-parentsBlending families is an adjustment, to say the least.  Depending on the personalities involved, you can expect anything from excitement (every parent’s dream) to indifference to unfiltered hostility (every parent’s nightmare).  But there are steps you can take to make the transition easier and help everyone to feel comfortable with their new situation.

First of all, keep your expectations realistic.  This is a new experience for everyone, and it’s not always going to be a smooth transition.  Accept reality: you will not be able to keep everyone happy all at the same time.  Take a deep breath and accept this natural limitation.  Now that you’ve freed yourself from the idea that total satisfaction is possible for everyone involved, you can face the challenges and decisions with a more balanced perspective, and hopefully, a little less internal pressure.

Start by focusing on relationships.  Keep in mind that we are always more forgiving and more generous towards those that we know personally and have a good relationships with.  If your relationship with one of the kids is strained, this is the time to develop that relationship.  Find an activity or hobby that you can share together, find common interests to discuss, volunteer to be the one to drive this child to activities or friends’ houses.  Look for little windows to connect – instead of hauling out your laptop to get some work done after dinner, sit on the couch next to your family member and strike up a conversation about his or her day.  Or your day.  Invite the kids to come with you on typical errands like groceries, and recruit their help to work as a team to get the shopping done.  Don’t get discouraged if it feels as though you are getting a bad return on your investment.  You might need to do the “right” things over and over before you make any progress.  Don’t let a string of declines deter you; keep making the offers and trying to create opportunities to spend time, particularly one-on-one time, with each of the children.  One of the biggest mistakes people make is trying to discipline their step-children too soon; this can backfire in a big way and cause a ripple effect of bad feelings that can take a very long time to overcome.  Err on the side of caution, and at first, just allow each parent to discipline their own kids, while supporting each other’s efforts, and continue to work on developing a good relationship with each of the kids in the house.

Develop routines that everyone can live with.  Routines and predictability help kids to feel safe, so try to keep as many things consistent as possible.  Keep in mind, though, this means blending two possibly very different ways of doing things, so total consistency from one family to the next is not possible (see my first point).  Find a balance between the routines from your two previous families, and incorporate those habits that make sense and will fit well for your new circumstances, adapt those habits that can be made better with some tweaking, and accept that certain things are just going to have to be left in the dust for the new family to work.  That’s ok.  Things will evolve as both your comfort level as a household grows, as well as the age of your children changes, so you’ll have lots of time to find what works best for you.

How will you decide what works best for you?  You’ll need to communicate.  A lot.  About just about everything.  Communication is one of the biggest black holes in many marriages and families, so the importance of it cannot be over-stated.  Family meetings would be a tremendously helpful idea here.  Find a consistent time once a week to sit down with everyone in the family and address as a group any complaints or concerns that are coming up, as well as to acknowledge and thank others for doing what they can to help out.  I think family meetings are one of the most important tools parents can have in their tool box, and many, many family problems benefit from a group problem-solving session.

And finally, put aside some time for you as a couple.  Not spending enough quality time together is the killer of many relationships, and with the additional stresses that come with a blended family, it’s more important than ever that you two keep some time sacred just for the two of you.  There will always be something going on or someone who needs you – make sure that you put yourselves on that list instead of putting your relationship on the back-burner while you put out the more immediate fires.  When your relationship reaches crisis status, it won’t demand attention the way other family crises do.  Instead, it will burn away slowly and run the risk of fizzling out altogether.  Don’t let that happen.  Connect daily, even if only for a few minutes, show appreciation, develop routines and hobbies that you can do together, focus on quality communication, have fun…all the same stuff that’s going to keep your family strong will keep your marriage strong, too!

By: Andrea Speers

Andrea Ramsay Speers

About Andrea Ramsay Speers

Andrea Ramsay Speers, M.A. is a Psychotherapist practicing in Oakville. Her entire practice is built around one purpose: helping people enjoy their families more, whether that means coaching parents in learning new parenting tools, increasing connection and harmony between couples, improving relationships with teenagers, or helping individuals overcome their feelings of depression, stress, or anxiety and start enjoying their lives again. She can be found online at www.OakvilleFamilyInstitute.com.

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