Today blended families are common and couples are interested in saving the marriage the second time around. “This time we’ll make it work!” is their motto. It is estimated that in the United States, 43 % of marriages are remarriages for at least one of the adults.
A blended family is a family that is composed of parents who are in their 2nd or 3rd marriage, each bringing their own children to the marriage. However, many couples are so excited to have a second chance at love that they don’t see the potential explosions that are just over the horizon. Being prepared and having a plan can prevent or ease some of the distress that is present in many blended families and can save the marriage before it begins.
When a new business endeavor is established, a mission statement is formulated and guidelines are established on the front end. Establishing a new family, especially a blended family, requires even more vision of what you want the family to look like, what the family will be about and how the family will get there.
Introduce your children to your new love slowly. The first few times, meet in a neutral setting such as a restaurant or mall. Later, invite him/her to your home for a short time. Dinner and a movie or game night works well. Do this until your children (and his/hers) feel comfortable around each other. At this point longer times can be planned-a day at the beach, a campout, or short vacation.
Obviously there is a lot of excitement when a couple gets engaged. Be sensitive to your children and ask them what they think or feel about the news. Listen to them without becoming defensive and validate their feelings. Don’t get into a power struggle or a debate but let them know that you will always love them and that you also love this new person in your life.
Continue to be sensitive to your child’s feelings and include him/her in the wedding plans. Although you don’t want your child to decide everything, let her have some input and participation in the wedding. You might consider even including the children in part of the honeymoon-after spending a few days alone with your spouse.
After the Wedding:
Now comes the hard part, living together peacefully.
A little planning and organization can go a long way. The division of space in the home, (who gets what room and who shares the bathroom) are topics that need to be discussed as a couple, and then with the children as a united front. Decide together about the household chores, schedules, and rules. Post the rules so that everyone can see them and let the kids know that the rules apply to everyone. Most importantly, decide together what the consequences will be for infractions, how children will be disciplined and what is acceptable or not in dealing with misbehavior. It takes discipline on the part of the parents to carry out sound discipline with children. The more you can discuss and decide on these topics ahead of time, the better.
Spend special time bonding with your spouse’s children and ask your spouse to do the same with your children. Take them to the movie or to get ice cream with you. Go to their ballgames and cheer for them. Go into their room and ask how their day went and most of all, listen to them! If they don’t accept you right away, that’s ok. It takes time to build relationships, especially when that new person in your life wasn’t your choice. Kids need time to adapt. Empathy goes a long way in building relationships with the children in your new marriage. Being understanding and recognizing that this is not easy for anyone will go a long way in smoothing the way for new family connections.
Hold your tongue!
Don’t ever speak negatively to your step-children about their other parent. They have enough to deal with without you bashing their mom or dad. If they share something negative about their other parent, you can say “I’m really sorry that happened” or “It must be tough to deal with that”. You can empathize with them without getting into criticism. This is hard to do, but SO important!
His, Hers, or “Ours”?
Refer to the children as “our children” instead of “your kids” and “my kids”. Plan fun family times for everyone to enjoy time with each other. Introduce your step kids as “my son” or “my daughter”, unless the child has specifically requested that you not do so, and if they have requested that you not refer to them as your son or daughter, respect their wishes!
The Most Important Connection:
Above all, stay connected to your spouse. Keep a regular date night when you can get away from the children and do something fun. Set aside time every evening to talk and reconnect. Set aside times to talk about problems with the children, but don’t let those topics be the focus of every conversation. The kids will eventually grow up and move away, and your relationship with your spouse should be nourished so that when that time comes, you will still enjoy being together! Saving a marriage is always a worthwhile endeavor.
A second chance at love is a wonderful thing, and something to be planned for, protected and nourished. With care and wise counsel, blended families can thrive and last “til death do us part”.
Deborah Pinkston, Ph.D.