Blended families – top tips to help yours work
Children who live as part of a successful blended family have access to not just their biological parents, but also step parents, new siblings, step grandparents as well as the wider family. When this works well, the ‘original child’ can grow in ways that their biological parents simply couldn’t offer them alone. They will be broader and more learned human beings, and have the advantage of knowing how to deal with lots of different types of people, they will also become more flexible and be able to see more perspectives on things.
When a blended family works, it can be amazing for the original children.
Getting to the point where everyone is working in the same way can be tricky and in its early stages, whilst people are figuring out how to do it, has been likened (by a client of mine) to an unexploded minefield. Navigating this minefield can be tricky and treacherous at the beginning, but if you persevere then it can bring so much reward.
Here are some things that will help you reach stable ground.
1. Remember who you’re doing this for
When we aim to make a blended family work, we do it for the sake of our children, so they can have clear amicable access to both of their parents and their new partners without picking up on any negativity. Stepping into their shoes to remember that can be very helpful for us when we feel angry or jealous that our children aren’t with us all the time.
2. Have a solid parental agreement
This is the first practical thing that needs to be put in place. Having agreements about how you will introduce new partners onto the scene is a really important first step. Then working out together what the key messages are that you will tell your child is the crucial second step. Key messages mean your child is hearing the same things from all the significant people in their lives.
Here are some examples:
“Jane will never replace mummy, nor will she try to be mummy, she is Jane and she will love you very much.” (Please get Jane on board with this message, as if Jane doesn’t live this, then the child won’t feel safe). “Both houses are your homes and we will try to keep the main rules the same in both houses. We won’t always get it completely right, but we will all try.”
Set similar rules around bed times, homework, screen times, meal times and responses to certain behaviour.
3. Use similar language
Make a decision what to call step siblings, or grandparents etc. In our blended family, we don’t use the word ‘step’ and instead our son has ‘siblings’ at both houses and four sets of grandparents, not two. But it’s different for each family. What does matter is that both houses have an agreement of what’s going on, to hold the space safely for the child.
4. Remember it’s about enhancement not replacement
When a blended family first emerges, it is pretty likely that there will be animosity, trust issues, guardedness and wanting to keep your child with you, rather than sharing them with a ‘new’ mother of father. But remember: The step parent is pretty unlikely to replace the biological parent in terms of how they are seen by the child. That doesn’t mean that the child won’t develop a rich, loving meaningful relationship with them that sits wonderfully alongside the biological parent. But it does mean you can stop feeling put out and jealous. If you can realise that your child will benefit and thrive from these new relationship, then that will help shift your mindset to become more accepting, thereby creating a less acrimonious environment for your child.
5. Communicate effectively
Find a way to communicate that can be all about the admin of the child. You can consider a Whatsapp group for admin and planning. Depending on the age of your child, they may already have a phone. In which case by all means have a family communication group that includes your child, so they can share sport wins, photos etc. But I also recommend to my clients that they keep a group just for the parents and step parents, so that administrative matters and arrangements can be discussed easily, without their child knowing that there is a negotiation going on for their time.
Be respectful and remember the most important thing: The other house loves your child as much as you do.