Say the words ideal blended family, and for many people, "The Brady Bunch" comes to mind. But in real marriages that include children from a previous union, you don't create a successful family merger in tidy 30-minute installments.
A remarrying couple often fails to realize that they are far more excited about the union than their kids. For most children, Mom or Dad's new marriage presents unwelcome challenges:
- Disloyalty issues. Remarriage can put a child in a terrific bind. Does friendliness with a stepparent constitute disloyalty to the biological parent?
- Family position. The merger of two families often results in the loss of status and privileges for the children involved. For example, a youngest child may find herself shifted to a less strategic position in the new lineup. And an eldest or only child — who perhaps assumed the role of surrogate partner after his parents' divorce — may be demoted from "numero uno" to a discouraging "numero whatever-o."
- New rules. The new marriage represents yet another adjustment to rules arising from multiple (and rarely consistent) sets of adult authority.
Here are some ways to smooth the process of blending families:
- Decide together what the ground rules will be for all the kids. You and your new spouse need to align your assumptions about parenting, especially when it comes to setting limits.
- If at all possible, avoid moving into one or the other's existing home. Otherwise, one family may feel like their territory has been invaded, and the other may feel like interlopers in someone else's home.
- Make time to listen. Have regular family meetings to talk about what's working and what isn't. Each member of the family should be given the opportunity to express feelings and respectfully make suggestions.
- Be patient. Families do not blend quickly. In a best-case scenario, it will take a full year for children to adjust to the new arrangements.
One final thought: The marriage relationship — blended or otherwise — takes priority over all others. So keep your marriage strong. That commitment is the foundation upon which you will create a harmonious community under your roof.
Focus on the Family has resources and counseling to help you and your family. You can contact us during normal business hours at:
(800) A-FAMILY (232-6459)
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