Blended families are quickly becoming the new norm. While this is a fun and exciting chapter in your life, it is a completely new experience for you, your spouse, and the children you share. Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to prepare for such a big transition, since new feelings can emerge after the transition occurs. While you may have taken precautionary steps in ensuring that your families get along before the big move, living together may look different than spending a few hours a week together. This is because the dynamics between family members are naturally more complex and can lead to arguments and misinterpretations.
The goal of this article is to support you and your family after the big move with six key concepts that will enhance your experience as a family. As an overview, these concepts focus on self-awareness, relationship building, and self-care. With all that said, no matter where in the transition process you are, remember to remain optimistic, and take each day as it comes, since it can take time for each family member to find their groove again.
Become Aware of Your Own Biases
Biases come from the way we were raised, our experiences, and beliefs; therefore, it is incredibly natural to have them. Even though we all experience our own biases, it is vital to recognize that your personal preferences and beliefs may differ from those of other family members. For instance, your parenting choices may be more authoritative while your spouse is more authoritarian. While both parenting styles share high expectations for their child, authoritarian parents are strict yet warm, while authoritative parents expect their child to abide by their rules, no questions asked.
No matter how different your parenting style is, it is crucial to be aware of the way you present yourself during difficult discussions. For example, you may be stricter with the way your child dresses, while your spouse is okay with allowing your daughter to show some skin, which could lead to a disagreement. It is easy to get lost in one of your passions while losing who you are passionate about. Therefore, it is vital to stay impartial by allowing open discussions between family members so that everyone has a choice and a voice to express their opinion regarding the matter. For instance, you could ask your teenager, “Why is this tank top meaningful to you? What are the benefits of wearing this tank top?” By remaining neutral, you can allow your teen to feel valued and un-judged, leading to a more nuanced conversation regarding appropriate clothing. Perhaps, both of you will find a middle ground that you find acceptable. This process will allow your stepchild to feel as though you possess a genuine interest in their feelings and beliefs, which will support your connection.
Build Individual Relationships
The idea of merging two families sounds exciting. Think back to all those hilarious family movies like Yours, Mine, and Ours and Blended. While these movies show the ups and downs of stepfamilies, they also tend to glamorize the concept. This is not to say that blending two families is not exciting, but rather to remind you not to jump the gun.
Instead, allow the process to flow at a natural pace. Focus on nurturing each individual relationship. Whether it is by normalizing the experience for your biological son through shared interests or attending a concert with your stepdaughter, bonding time can be extremely beneficial in building close relationships. To do so, you can create a simple routine. For example, set 30 minutes to an hour each week to spend time with your stepchild. During this time, refrain from taking the role of a parent (such as lecturing, teaching, or critiquing your stepchild). Instead, allow your stepchild to take the lead by showing them respect and appreciation for your time spent together. The same goes for spending time with your spouse.
While there are endless reasons why spending time with your children is important, one key reason is the improvement of family bonding. Families who share everyday activities build strong, emotional ties, trust, and communication, which in return will make your job as a step-parent a lot easier.
Create New Rituals & Memories as a Family
New families may come with old memories, both good and bad. At times, this may lead your partner or stepchildren to feel left out. To prevent this, it is essential to create new memories as a family. Whether you are going on a road trip or having a family game night, creating new memories through joy and laughter is the best way to bring family members together. It is crucial to refrain from creating any negative connotation around the idea. Instead, remain empathetic by allowing your stepchildren to open up on their own terms.
Don’t Get Stuck on Titles
Adjusting to your new family may be confusing, especially if you are used to a traditional family system. Between your ex, your spouse, your biological children, and adopted children, things can get a little tricky. Imagine this: some time has passed since the big transition and your children and spouse have all adjusted to the new environment and are getting along fairly well. When asked how you are at work, you can’t help but gloat about your family. During dinner time, your partner reminds you about a family reunion coming up that weekend, which, makes you a bit anxious. Days later, you introduce your daughter as your “stepchild.” She feels hurt and upset that after all you have been through, she is just a stepdaughter to you.
Sadly, stories like these are much too familiar, since the term “stepchild” can be stereotypical and make your child feel inferior and judged. To prevent this, it may be useful to use the same label with all of your children if it is appropriate for your family. It may also help to check in with your daughter and ask for her opinion or what she is comfortable with. While one child may be comfortable calling their stepparent, “Mom” or “Dad,” your other child may feel more comfortable calling their stepparent by their first name and vice versa. It’s worth noting that this may change with time as your daughter beings to feel more comfortable with the dynamics of your family. It is vital to allow her the space and time to adjust at her own speed. After all, all families have a different story, including yours.
Develop a Support System
Naturally, new changes can throw you off balance. Hence, it is useful to find a trusted friend, family member, or therapist to support you throughout the process. By creating a healthy support system, you can productively express your emotions and experiences, rather than releasing your anger or frustration on your partner and children. Additionally, it can be beneficial to verbally communicate what you are going through to better understand your own emotions. Doing this can support you in expressing your feelings to others and deciding how you would like to approach the problem effectively. Furthermore, you are more likely to be levelheaded, remain attentive, and understand the perspective of your family members.
Find Alone Time to Recharge
Everyone needs time to recharge and do some self-care, including you! While this article highlights the importance of spending individual time with each family member, as well as time together, it is also essential to find time for yourself. Whether you enjoy cycling, meditating, or cooking delicious food, schedule time within your busy week to recharge on your own. In doing so, it is more likely that you will present your best self to others, and they will do the same to you.
Lastly, don’t forget to be you. Being your authentic self is being your best self, as long as it is presented with kindness, patience, and good intention. This may sound cheesy and the premise of every one of those family movies. However, it can be a useful reminder when your mind is racing, and life becomes stressful and overwhelming. So, remember to stay optimistic and enjoy the ride, since these new beginnings may be laughable memories in the years to come.