Blended family advice is helpful for all members of a blended family. The biological parent has different concerns than the step parent but all concerns are equally important. The children of the new family has their own set of concerns which shouldn’t be ignored either. Blended family advice relates to each member of the new family dynamic differently. In a related article, I offered blended family advice to step-parents on what they can do to foster healthy relationships and keep the peace in a blended family. Well, what about the biological parent? What role do they play in this blended family dynamic? How can they contribute to the stability and structure of the blended family?
There are a few key strategies you can start to implement as the biological parent that will help you in your new family dynamic. As the biological parent what are the things you can do to help your new blended family start off on the right foot?
All too often adults get lost in new relationships or in the ideology that they have a chance to create a “new family” for their children. While part of that is true, there is still many important things to preserve from the old family. For example, the one-on-one time your kids used to get with you should still play a huge part in their life. Have you started sacrificing that time with them? Do you make an effort to maintain a healthy balance between quality alone time with them and the time they have to spend with your new spouse or stepchildren? Why is that so important? Because this helps your children continue to feel they can trust and confide in you. It allows them that time to be able to fully express themselves with someone who unconditionally accepts them and makes them feel that they are still the most important people in your life despite the changes. They also deserve to be able to have access to you as their parent, not someone who is acting in dueling roles as new husband/wife, step-dad or step-mom. It can be a challenge if you have a new spouse who wants you to include her or her children, leaving little free time for you to spend alone with your children. It is possible for you to find ways to balance and maintain healthy boundaries with acceptance and inclusion for everyone. If this seems to be an ongoing challenge for your new blended family, seek the help from a professional who can guide your family with some helpful tips and tools that will keep everyone feeling happy and special.
If your children have an active biological parent on the other end, then do not have an expectation that your new partner will be filing any parental roles right away (if ever). More importantly, you should expect that your new partner will be a positive role model, supportive to you and your children, and that they are kind, compassionate and understanding to your children’s needs. If you find that they are exercising too much discipline, being too critical, or making underhanded comments about your ex, then it is time to have a conversation about what’s been going on. If you see that your kids have stopped talking to you or seem to be angry, avoiding, or rejecting you or your new spouse at times, there could be some underlying resentment or animosity brewing. Have on-going private conversations with your children, during all developmental stages of their lives, and ask them how they feel about their situation. While they don’t get to decide who you marry or spend time with, they should still feel like they can express their feelings openly. You may not agree with how they feel, but you can still validate their feelings and brainstorm to find resolutions. Take an inventory of what they say and do not dismiss their concerns or you may find that your relationship with them will begin to suffer.
Most discipline should still be coming from you. Do not defer discipline to your new partner or drastically change your techniques based on how your new spouse thinks you should raise your children. One of the biggest mistakes blended families make is by assuming that new partners must now play a parental role in their kids lives. The title “step-parent” does not automatically imply that your kids now have a new mother or father. It simply means that by marriage, they have someone filling a new role in their lives. It is very important for everyone to be on the same page about what that role is. Children in blended families get one advantage over children of intact families. They get more people who can support, love, and help them through life. Your new spouse need not undermine, take over, or try to fill the role of “parent.” The best thing they can do is provide your children with a respectful relationship and offer you support in your role as biological parent. This will help your children trust, respect, and grow to love your new spouse because they will see that your new relationship has enriched their lives rather than replacing existing aspects of it.
Life is a constant stream of change and divorce is a reality that faces 50% of American families. Children of divorce don’t have to suffer negative effects. They can benefit from the blended family dynamic if there are clearly defined expectations and roles, lots of love, support, and reassurance. It is absolutely possible to create an amazing, peaceful blended family. It takes creativity, good boundaries, and a lot of flexibility. There are places you can go to for support and multiple resources available that offer the best blended family advice. The most important thing you can do is stay positive, have healthy communication, and keep changing things if what you are doing is not working.
Heather Oller is a licensed Orlando therapist at Orlando Thrive Therapy, Coaching & Counseling who specializes in counseling Orlando couples, individuals, and families who are seeking changes in their lives. She has been a mental health professional for over 17 years and is a practicing Orlando counselor that specializes in conflict resolution for couples. You can contact her for an appointment or call 407-592-8997 for more information.