When 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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