Transitioning into Blended Families: Planning Ahead

blenderWhen married couples transition into blended families, they face many adjustments. There are more relationships to navigate—not only does the relationship between the couple require skillful consideration, but relationships among the children and between children and parents do as well. Finally, relationships among the biological parents must be cordial for transitioning into a blended family to be as smooth as possible.

Planning ahead is one way to prepare for the adjustments couples are faced with when moving into blended families. Discussions around issues such as parenting styles and household rules help couples transitioning into blended families prepare for challenges as parents and stepparents, and to have a solution at hand when presented with difficult situations. By planning ahead, partners create opportunities to support each other in parenting and stepparenting.

The following is a list of helpful steps couples can take to plan ahead and prepare to transition into blended families:

  • Create and nurture a strong bond: A strong bond must be created between the couple and nurtured consistently. Couples must spend time alone to recharge and maintain an emotional connection. Honest and open communication is essential between the couple about goals and expectations. By having consistent and open discussions about values and goals, couples can build and maintain bonds that will form the foundation of a healthy stepfamily.
  • Discuss parenting roles: Couples need to discuss their parenting roles. They need to know what styles and values they have in common and where they differ in order to know what to expect, to compromise, and to support each other.
  • Establish ground rules: Blended families must establish clear ground rules that are congruent with the couple’s values. Couples should discuss the ground rules with children so they don’t feel blindsided when disciplined.
  • Agree on consequences: Couples should discuss their parenting philosophies regarding consequences for breaking rules. They need to have conversations around topics such as sex, drugs and alcohol, trouble with school, violence, acceptable friends, etc., and discuss strategies for handling various situations. The children should have input when appropriate.
  • Keep expectations realistic: Couples need to understand that each family is unique and that they will experience their blended family differently from their previous family. Couples also should have reasonable expectations of each other. Parenting roles and relationships in blended families are more complex, and it will take time, commitment, and effort to develop a system that works well for everyone. Partners should consistently check in with each other.
  • Accept that change is inevitable: Blended families need to have flexibility as the family matures and grows. Couples should discuss what has and hasn’t worked in the recent past. To be prepared to support each other, couples must be in agreement, ready to follow through with consequences, and adjust accordingly.
  • Patience is a must: It is not uncommon for a blended family to take four to seven years to adjust. Be patient and understand that an adjustment as significant as this takes significant time. Also, take time to listen to each other; input from both partners and the children is invaluable.

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  • Miller

    Miller

    June 4th, 2014 at 1:27 PM

    This is where I think that so many families who have to blend fail, in that they don’t think about planning and actually doing things that will help the families become one together.
    I think that they think that all they need is love and it will all work out. NOT!!

  • Josie

    Josie

    June 4th, 2014 at 3:48 PM

    I am not sure that there is any real way to plan for this. You think that you have all of your ducks in a row and then something, anything, can throw the whole family for a loop and it can be so sudden and unexpected that there was no way to plan for it. Blended families can be a wonderful thing- I am the product of one that really worked. My parents all had the best interests of all of us in mind when they undertook this challenge and they modeled to us the way this kind of situation could be, and should be to take care of everyone involved. I have witnessed some really bad ways of doing it and the kids just hurt so much when they are made a part of that. Since so many families experience divorce and remarriage today you would think that some lessons would have been learned by now and that people would have learned how to do it right, or at least be adult enough to make it okay.

  • Gordon

    Gordon

    June 5th, 2014 at 3:25 PM

    what do any of you think about the theory that as parents maybe we should put our own lives on hold and not ddate or remarry until the kids are old enough to move out on their own? in some ways it feels like i would be denying myself the right to move forward but i also know how fragile children can be. they need their parents unconditionally and is this something that you are really able to offer them if you are also trying to work on a new relationship or establishing a new family and home? there would have been a time when i would have adamantly disagreed with this argument but with my own kids and seeing how much of me that they need i just don’t even think that this would be a good time at all to think about bringing new people into their lives. this hould be the time that i focus on them, and know that there is more for me yet to come, but that maybe i need to put all of that on hold for a little while.

  • JA

    JA

    June 6th, 2014 at 4:17 AM

    Families can do this right but so often they don’t that second divorces might be even more commonplace than first divorces now. And great that’s just what they all need, to have to go through this event again.

  • Bennett M

    Bennett M

    June 8th, 2014 at 5:04 AM

    I don’t understand why this is even still a problem. Think about how many families are actually blended as opposed to families that have had only one marriage. It almost feels like there are even more step families now than there are those where the parents have never been divorced or remarried. You would think that if this is actually the norm then society would have it figured out by now when it comes to knowing how to make this all fit together and work. I have witnessed those who have it down pat and who know all the right moves to make and then those who seem to fail miserably. And of course everything in between and the same thing with families who haven’t experienced divorce! Raising kids is hard no matter what environmant it is in.

  • Kayla

    Kayla

    June 9th, 2014 at 5:39 PM

    Even if the parents are deeply in love if the kids don’t truly mesh with one another then this is a disaster waiting to happen. I see these people so gead over heelsd in love (lust?) with each other that they can’t wait to marry. But why? What is there to gain from it? Why not continue to date and have a good time together and not put the children through the turmoil that remarriage can so often bring? I know that marriage is the ideal for some and maybe one day it can be for these couples too, but I seriously think that there are times when the partmers should reconsider those decisions and think long and hard about how everyone will be affected. I think that at time they sort of get tunnel vision and focus only on their needs and not those of everyone.

  • Kathy Hardie-Williams, M.Ed, MS, NCC, MFT, LPC

    Kathy Hardie-Williams, M.Ed, MS, NCC, MFT, LPC

    June 10th, 2014 at 10:25 PM

    Hello everyone………I have really enjoyed reading all of your responses!

    I appreciate the various points of view that everyone has shared. And, you all make such good and valid points. As Miller points out, planning ahead raises the odds that a blended family will be successful, but then as Josie says, ‘life happens’ and then so much for the best laid plans! Gordon’s point is interesting and I believe much depends on the individual families. Gordon is correct in that there are several ‘layers’ that children have to work through when divorce in the family happens; it’s not just about the parents divorcing. It’s about other adjustments as well and it may be that for some families, waiting until the children move out is the best choice. That being said, there are successful blended families, so yes, it can work. Much of whether or not it works depends on how emotionally healthy the parents are, the resources available to the family, and how they are able to emotionally support the children during the transition. Another factor to consider is that most of the time, when divorce happens, each person has ‘work to do’ before it is ideal to enter another relationship so that the same patterns do not repeat in the following relationship. Bennett makes a great point. Raising children is difficult and it puts a lot of stress on ANY relationship. And, Kayla, yes, it makes sense that one would ask, “Why the urgency to marry?” Ideally, parents need to consider how blending a family will impact everyone, especially the children. I believe another valuable question to ask is, “How will we handle the conflict that will inevitably arise? How will we access the support our family will need to get through this difficult transition?” It’s helpful to remember that it can take up to seven years for the foundation in a blended family to feel solid; it takes TIME.

    Kathy Hardie-Williams, M.Ed, MS, NCC, MFT, LPC

  • Amy

    Amy

    July 26th, 2014 at 7:19 AM

    Ok but how do u adjust backwards. There were 5 children that blended. And in the beginning everything was perfect. We parented together made decisions together ect ect. Then his youngest started making problems at the extension of her mother. She has turned into a lying gossiping agitator. She has spread rumors of me being a whore. I am abbussive. I won’t allow her to eat. She lives with us and is severely obbese as her mother is. She is now telling everyone that I said her parents divorces was her fault. And turns around and says I am the cause. We have been married for 8 years. And now she is making demands of my husband with childish threats if not loving him if he doesn’t give in. At which point she gets her way. How do I handle the stress and continuous public ritucule we are in a small town so the rumors sores fast. And in this town everyone is guilty of the Rumor.

  • Kathy Hardie-Williams, M.Ed, MS, NCC, MFT, LPC

    Kathy Hardie-Williams, M.Ed, MS, NCC, MFT, LPC

    July 26th, 2014 at 9:37 PM

    Hi Amy….I recommend that you find a good family systems therapist for all of you to see. This is a ‘family system’ issue, meaning that it stems from the ‘family system’ that is currently in place, although not functioning at an optimal level. You have my sincere empathy; this is a tough situation that many step-parents find themselves in when blending families. I strongly recommend that you seek professional help from a family therapist sooner than later.

    If, for some reason, your husband is unwilling to participate in therapy, you can still get therapy yourself and impact the family system. From a structural family systems perspective, it is often said, “Change yourself, change the relationship.” The fact that you reached out on this blog is a huge first step. I wish you the best of luck.

    Best,

    Kathy Hardie-Williams, M.Ed, MS, NCC, MFT, LPC

  • tiffiny

    tiffiny

    January 9th, 2015 at 1:09 PM

    My question is, when there is no mutual bond between the children and the new step parent and their child, how do you proceed? Our issue is jumping straight into the set visitation by the courts verses slowly letting the relationships build and take place. How do you transition easily into the living together process without damaging the relationship?

  • Kathy Hardie-Williams,M.Ed, MS, NCC, LPC, LMFT

    Kathy Hardie-Williams,M.Ed, MS, NCC, LPC, LMFT

    January 13th, 2015 at 1:10 AM

    Hello Tiffany………….I would recommend you get in to see a family systems therapist. Honestly, I’m not sure there is an ‘easy way’ to transition into the living together process given that you were required to jump right in. A family systems therapist can help; all is not lost! Blending families is a tough process at best. I believe you can make it work if you are committed to the process, and can be patient. It takes time!

    Take care,

    Kathy

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