We meet, fall in love, plan to be together forever – but what about how your and their kids feel. Securing a new blended family can be challenging. We can do this pain-free.
A good time for all the children to meet after you meet this new special person is after both parents decide the union is something stable or permanent.
When the children are very young, under seven years they enjoy meeting new friends and playing with someone different. Older children are often more cautious and may fear this union means this new person may be forced into my life, regardless if I like them or not.
The children of both partners will usually see each other every second weekend, so they may not form a close bond together, they may be more like acquaintances. The children visiting each fortnight may not be able to form a close bond with their parent’s partner either if they don’t see them very often.
When there is conflict between the new partner and the children it can divide the couple quickly.
How to Introduce the kids to each other
When introducing the children to each other, it is a good idea to tell them they are the children of your friend. This way it does not bombard them with a feeling of permanency. You can explain to your children that these kids are nice and belong to your friend from his or her past relationship.
I suggest before introducing them all, tell your children something about the other children. Their name, age, the school they attend, the class they are in, any sport or activities they enjoy. This way they feel familiar and pre-connected. If you have a daughter that loves to dance and your friend’s child also loves dancing, then they already share a bond together. If both sons love soccer, football or similar that can also be a connection. In fact, the children may love the idea of having another child who enjoys the same activities as them, meaning they may really look forward to seeing them and playing with them each time they get together even if it is seldom.
It is wise to start off this new relationship doing fun activities together. Instead of them coming over and sitting around the house for a few days or having a quiet dinner out together, try to have something fun arranged. This is how the children will get to know you and your kids. They usually remember the first few times they meet you all and their opinion will be developed quickly so by enjoying fun, laughter and play together is always the best path to set initially. Normal can occur after that but start with fun.
This may mean a game of putt-putt golf, bike riding, kite flying, trip to a family restaurant, swim at the beach or pool, board games at the table, weekend camping all together. Whatever you decide to do ensure the kids enjoy it and you all have plenty of laughter.
How to Introduce the Step-Parent
Once the relationship progresses and becomes more permanent, I suggest parents never introduce their partner as the step-parent of their child. The fact is, the child did not select the person, you did. If the child wants to introduce them as their step-parent, that is wonderful but introducing them as their step-parent can place a lot of pressure on the child, especially if the child is a little older. This person is your choice and your partner.
When creating this new loving family unit, remember the children of your partner may have been parented differently to what your children have. While many of us believe our parenting style is best, the other parent would likely feel the same. We can often become frustrated with a step child if their behaviour is outside what we may normally tolerate. This is when a discussion with your partner is imperative. I have seen too many couples in distress, even at breaking point, due to this issue. Accept the other children will be parented differently to your children. They will have different boundaries, rules and expectations. This is what makes families so unique and people so individual.
If the children of your partner visit fortnightly, and you struggle with some of their behaviours, just smile and manage these differences. Remember that your partner may only be involved with their children each second weekend or half school holidays and this places such a pressure on them, the last thing they want is being made to discipline them, they just want to enjoy them.
If you are the parent coming into the home with your partner’s children living permanently with you both, and you find the children’s behaviour difficult to manage, then an open discussion with their parent, your partner, is required. Never tell the parent what they are doing wrong, simply suggest an alternate way to manage some of the behaviours that may benefit the child and family unit. If the conversation is not positive, I implore the couple to seek professional Counselling help so both parents are on the same page in regards to child raising. This way conflict within the home and relationship can be reduced significantly.
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Tips to Make it Work
You are creating a new family with new personalities, distinct parenting styles, different boundaries and expectations. It is the birth of something wonderful and new. There may be some hiccups along the way but remember they are just children who learn and follow. Both partners children may still be recovering from the loss of their base family unit, therefore slow progression is essential.
Checking in with the kids to see how they feel about this new family unit is essential. A combined family meeting with the parent and step parent together is a good idea to ensure both of you are on the same page with child expectations and boundaries. It is important the children know you are interested in how they feel and defining boundaries in this new relationship allows them clarity. Make the conversation safe, comfortable and non-judgmental. If one of the children do say something that surprises you, simply be curious and ask them how they feel the issue can be resolved. Good, open and clear communication is essential in any relationship but imperative in a new blended family relationship. Always ask the child what they feel about a rule or about the situation they are expereincing.
Asking the child how they feel enables the child to:
- Recognises their feelings are important
- Allows them to feel heard
- Can alleviate many issues before they escalate
- Enables parents to understand what their child individually needs
- Answers questions they may not have felt comfortable to previously ask
- Find solutions to any problem
- Develops a unity between you all
To ensure you create a loving family environment with all the children, there are a few tips to help:
- Recognise the other parent’s children are not your children, you can guide and suggest but certainly not discipline
- Ensure you continue to spend time alone with your children
- Always show love and respect to their parent and them
- Plan activities with all of you together doing things active and fun; laughter solves many issues
- Do not expect the visiting children to ‘tow the line’ in all jobs done within the home; they may be temporary visitors
- Always respect their other parent, validate their decision regardless if you agree or not.
Combined families can work extremely well. They do take some time and effort to blend and unite but the effort can be so very rewarding. Having the children happy with their new blended family can enable your relationship to deepen and grow.
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