Is there a recipe for blending families?
Every family has its own unique situation and needs – but there are ways to make things easier for everyone.
JOY SLUITERS IS A FAMILY
coach at The Parenting Place, and finds that many new ‘blended families’ come to her with similar questions. “The big question for the step-parent is often, ‘What is my role now with these new children?’” says Joy. “It’s important to recognise your role is not to replace the biological parent, but to provide warmth and get to know them, and to help them feel secure in this new situation.” That said, Joy notes that eventually step-parents will need to grow into a parenting role of sorts, in order to be able to enforce rules around safety and respect in the home. “When this starts to happen it’s important the other parent give clear authority signals to the step-parent in front of the children. They need to show support, otherwise you might be faced with challenges to that authority, such as ‘You’re not my father’ or ‘You can’t tell me what to do,” says Joy, who also notes it’s not about whether to discipline, but a question of style. “Your partner’s children need to get to know you are interested in them and their welfare, and that you want the best outcome,” she says. “So it’s important to keep discipline and coaching of children fair and reasonable.” Make sure the rules are the same for all the children, and perhaps check in with your own children to help them feel part of the team. Ask them to remind you what time they went to bed when they were a certain age, or what the rules are around washing up. A good way to build a sense of community in your new family is a family meeting. “Coming together as a family when you have school age and older children can be really helpful,” says Joy. “It’s a chance to clear the air and get on top of things. Make sure everyone has a chance to speak and be listened to.” Joy says these meetings are also a chance to give your new family a ‘health check’ to see how you’re doing, to make changes to rules and set new ones with everyone’s agreement. Also, she says, don’t shy away from enforcing the specific rules of your own home. It’s okay to say, ‘In this house we don’t wear our shoes inside, even though at your Dad’s house you do.’ “Kids are fine with that. They understand there are different rules in different places, like school and youth club,” says Joy. “Remember, you’ve come from two different families with different sets of rules, you need to make sure the right investment is made with the kids.” Joy also notes that transitions from one parent’s house to another can be emotional hot spots, and children might need some quiet time, rather than being thrown straight into a new family environment. “Lastly, don’t forget to invest in the relationship with your new partner,” says Joy. “Kids know if their parents are okay, they’re okay and they can relax.”