This article first appeared on Divorced Moms and has been republished with permission.
Finding new love and a committed relationship after divorce is a delightful experience. Those positive feelings can, at times, get in the way of the reality of blending two families into one.
Below are five keys to creating a happy blended family once you’ve moved forward into a new marriage.
1. Love and Acceptance
Every member needs to feel loved and accepted by the other members of your blended family. Transitioning into a blended family is difficult for all involved. Parents and children will respond and react differently to the idea of coming together and building relationships. For children, this means building relationships with people they barely know.
For that reason, they may be obnoxious, obstinant and down-right hard to deal with. When this happens it can pit parents against each other and they may begin to see traits in each other that aren’t attractive. The quickest way to defuse angry children and unreasonable new spouses is to show love, acceptance, and empathy for what they are feeling.
If you can step outside yourself and attempt to view the situation from the other person’s perspective, love, acceptance, and empathy will be easy to offer.
2. Security and Attachment
Healthy relationships can’t be formed if everyone isn’t feeling secure and attached. This problem can be an issue with children who’ve experienced the divorce of their parents. For children, divorce can be traumatic and result in a loss of trust or, an unwillingness to trust again too quickly. Along with love, acceptance, and empathy, children will need quite a bit of reassurance that they are an important part of the new blended family.
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It takes time to heal children who are still trying to adjust to their parent’s divorce. It also takes time to bond with children who aren’t used to sharing parents with other people. Validation for what the children are experiencing and consistent love will break down barriers and help children attach to other members of the blended family and begin to feel secure.
3. The Other Parent
I know a therapist who is also a step-mother. She has no children of her own and has become consumed with every aspect of her stepdaughter’s life. She insists she is at every doctor’s appointment, every parent/teacher conference and part of every decision made about the child’s life. As a result, there is great friction between her and the child’s biological mother.
My therapist friend has crossed boundaries that no step-parent should cross. The job of a step-parent is to respect the biological parent and their boundaries, not the other way around. When boundaries are crossed you are sending your step-child the message that you don’t feel their biological parent is doing a good enough job of parenting.
Never do anything that gets in the way of a step-child bonding with and receiving love from the biological parent. You are the step-parent, not the biological parent, know your place!
4. It Takes Time
It can take two to eight years for a blended family to navigate the basic stages necessary for developing a sense of harmony and loyalty. The older the children at the time of blending, the longer it will take for bonding to occur. Blended families will need to pass through many stages, the getting to know each other stage, the forming attachments stage in order to develop into a strong blended family.
Research has shown several models of the stages of development for blended families. Blending is not a smooth process and, knowing that from the outset will go along way in keeping one parent or the other from throwing in the towel when the waters aren’t smooth. You have to be willing to give it time!
5. Not All Problems Are About Blending
Life, stress and everyday problems have to be dealt with at the same time you are blending your family. Your new blended family can experience problems that have nothing to do with an obnoxious step-child or whether a member has attached and is feeling loved.
As a blended family, you are expected or, will have to deal with all the normal crap life throws your way. Children will grow and develop their own sense of autonomy, spouses will argue, the mortgage will need to be paid and life will go on if you don’t allow outside issues or normal personal changes to interfere with your commitment to maintaining a happy, healthy blended family.