Top 6 issues to consider when Blending Families
This should be a wonderful and exciting time in your life, and it can be. Blending two families can also be emotional and challenging if the partners involved rush in without being aware of the important issues involved. If family members can be patient, considerate of each others feelings and informed about the dynamics of a blended family, they will be more likely to create a loving family unit.
All blended families are different, with unique concerns, personalities and dynamics. Family issues may have existed for many years, often before the biological parents separated. Issues will be depended on many variables, whether one or both partners have children, age of the children, and how extended family and friends respond to the new family unit. A common stress on the newly formed family is the relationship between the ex-partners. Different issues also arise if the children have an active relationship with their other biological parent, or if the children have little contact with their other biological parent and will be living in the blended family home full time.
Below are 6 general areas to consider before blending families. These topic areas can serve as a starting point for conversation as your family begins to form. Counselling is available as well and can be helpful to assist in understanding the relationship dynamics and to help the family communicate about issues that can become emotional and difficult to discuss.
1: Becoming a step parent:
It’s a big decision to become a step parent, regardless of the age of the children. A step family is very different from an intact family in that the step children are the offspring of only one of the adults in the couple relationship. One of the challenges for step parents to overcome is the feeling of being an outsider and lack of importance that step-parents often feel. It’s often surprising to everyone when step-parents feel unimportant and emotionally hurt in the family unit. Most people that are parenting never imagine that there will be some events and decisions that they aren’t included in. Communicating about this as a couple and listening to each others feelings will be important as you work out what feels right for your new family.
2: Ideas of raising children/parenting styles:
Two partners joining together will have their own unique views of parenting. Even if one of them does not have any biological children, they will have created their own opinion from their own family of origin and experiences about how they imagine a healthy family unit to function. You may feel as a new step parent that you should hold back your opinions and quietly join an already formed family. Long term, this can contribute to the step parent feeling insignificant and unimportant in the family unit. It is likely to be more affected to be proactive with a vision and plan for family life when you are thinking about joining as a blended family. Whether you are a single person with no children joining with a partner with children, or you and your partner are both bringing children to the newly formed blended family, it’s important that everyone’s ideas are considered, and that the newly formed blended family creates new customs, rituals and ways of functioning that consider all of the personalities and dynamics involved
3: Housing/living arrangements:
Living situations are one of the main points to consider when physically joining families by sharing a home. This may mean one home moving into the other home, or both families leaving their homes and acquiring a new home for everyone to share. Keep in mind that children usually do better with change when they have fewer changes to deal with. You might want to avoid having children move schools at the same time, as the transition of blending a family and changing schools will be too much change for most children. Whether children live in the home 100% of the time, 50% of the time or come for occasional visits, all children should have some of their own personal space to help them feel that they belong in the home.
4: Child/step parent relationship:
As excited as we can be to develop positive relationships with step children, it’s important to go slow and let relationships develop at the pace that children are comfortable with. It’s important that kids know that their step-parents welcome the relationship and that they are important to the step parent. Most kids grow up with ideas that are negative about step parents, from friends, movies and fairy tales, and it takes a great deal of time for relationships to form. Often step children are grieving the relationship between their parents. Step children can also feel that they have to align themselves with the other biological parent, and can have feelings of guilt if they start to like and bond to their step-parent.
5: Making couple relationship a priority:
Make time for your couple relationship. This can be a challenge because one or both partners may be focused on family time and ensuring the kids feel loved and are well adjusted. Parents can sometimes feel guilty making time for their relationship when their kids might be struggling with different aspects of the transition of blending the family unit. Making time for each other is vital. Your family has chosen to join because of your relationship. Try to make time for a walk or a coffee while the kids are at school, or a night out for a date. Time together can also be helpful when needing to privately discuss the issues that come up. Making time to talk as a couple in private about parenting concerns and presenting a united front with the kids will be helpful for the kids in viewing you as a strong parenting unit.
One of the major stressors between any couple is how they communicate about finances and the meaning they attach to money. Blending two families when partners have had past experiences that didn’t go well, and have themselves and their own biological children to worry about, can become complicated. The couple needs to decide whether they feel comfortable putting their money together or keeping separate accounts. Other areas to discuss may be whether only biological parents pay for their own children, or do both partners of a couple share expenses of all children? How does the couple split expenses if one makes significantly more income than the other? Many couples that blend families have different spending habits. Having good communication about how to financially plan will be an important part of forming a healthy family.
Looking at all the issues stated above can be daunting for all members of a blending family. Don’t lose hope and try to stay positive. In the long term there can be many benefits to joining families. For those that have been on their own, there are financial benefits to two families joining. Having close relationships with new step siblings, children and parents and feeling connected and love from more people in our lives can be wonderful and contribute to an increased feeling of well being. It can be an amazing relief to join with another parent and have a person that you love to help with some of the difficulties of parenting alone. Most children are happy to see their parents in a relationship again, creating a healthy, loving couple relationship and a happier family unit.