When the family unit changes, it is the children who are the hardest hit and, whether you realize or not, a new marriage for you can be perceived as a threat by your kids. But by using a little foresight, you can learn how to encourage bonding in a blended family and make the adjustment easier for everyone. So, how can you strengthen the bonds in your blended family?
Take it slow. Realizing that love takes time is the first step toward understanding your children’s hesitation. After all, just because you love your new spouse doesn’t mean that your children will automatically love him or her too. In addition, your children may feel that any affection they show toward their step-parent somehow diminishes the love they feel for their non-custodial parent. And while you know this isn’t true, you still need to respect your children’s feelings as they try to work through this difficult set of emotions. For this reason, you should think twice before pushing the issue ofstep-parent adoption and wait until you’re sure that your kids are ready and that it’s the right thing to do.
Avoid too much change at one time. You’ve already asked your kids to deal with some pretty grown-up issues so don’t expect them to embrace a whole new way of life all at once. If Friday night was always pizza night then don’t give up that tradition just because your new spouse prefers something else. While you may be trying to leave your old life behind and start over with your new spouse, remember that your children find all those little traditions to be comforting and, to some extent, safe. Let them adjust slowly – don’t introduce too many new ways of doing things too quickly or they’ll back away.
Keep making the major decisions. It’s hard for kids to suddenly take orders from a stranger in the family unit so, at least for a while, your new spouse should try to refrain from dishing out punishments and orders until a bond has been formed. Initially, your new spouse should just be more of a friend to your kids – still part of the family of course but not necessarily the new disciplinarian of the house. You’ll also want to be sure that any parenting agreements you have in place with your former spouse are honored and that your new spouse understands the importance of helping your children maintain the relationship with their non-custodial parent.
Watch out for jealousy. Let’s face it – you’re a newlywed again. And because of that, you’re likely feeling like you’re on cloud nine. Your kids on the other hand are looking to see if you love your new spouse more than you love them. It may sound silly but to a child, that theory is perfectly reasonable. It’s fine to be affectionate toward your new spouse and you’ll certainly want to enjoy some time alone as a couple but be sure to give some added attention to your kids during this time as well while they try to adjust. Let them know that just because you’ve remarried doesn’t mean that they aren’t as important any more.
Anticipate problems. The worst thing you could do is argue in front of your kids. Because your children haven’t yet formed any real attachment to your new spouse, any opinion he or she may have that differs with yours will automatically be seen as wrong. As a result, your children will quickly grow to resent their new step-parent because they see him or her as interfering with their family unit. Instead, you need to anticipate problems and try to deal with them privately when your kids are not around.
Don’t change. If you were the “cool mom” who let the kids stay up late on the weekends before the new marriage, that can’t change, especially not at first. Your kids need to know that you’re still the same parent they’ve come to love. The same rules still apply and the same expectations remain in place.
Don’t overreact, but don’t underreact either. Depending upon their age and disposition, your children may try to test you during this time by acting out in some pretty unattractive ways. While you don’t want to push them into a relationship with your new spouse, you also need to let them know when they’ve overstepped their bounds. It’s one thing not to be overly excited about a new step-parent but quite another to be blatantly disrespectful. You wouldn’t let them talk to anyone else that way so it’s not okay for them to do it to their step-parent, anger issues or not. Let them know that while you’re willing to be understanding and give them some space, you do still expect them to be polite and courteous as always.
Also remember that, no matter how hard you try, adjusting to a new step-parent can be a difficult transition for kids but sooner or later, they usually come around. Just take it one day at a time and be as honest as you can be with your children. They’ll respect you for it and your efforts will ultimately make the transition easier.