By Corey Campbell, LCSW, True North Solutions
Blended families are a growing trend in the United States. Due to high rates of divorce, many families look less like the Waltons and more like the Brady Bunch. The following article offers some tips on how to build a successful blended family with information from working with blended families in a therapy setting and my own personal experience of navigating a working blended family.
• Do not expect the same thing — many people enter into blended families with the fatal flaw of believing that this family will operate similarly to any previous family. Families need to be treated with the same uniqueness and autonomy as individuals. No two families look or operate the same way.
• If you are a step-parent, enjoy the fact that you are step-parent! On occasion, step-parents feel like parenting becomes a contest with the non-familial biological parent. This parental arms race does nothing to help the children and often leads down the path of further discord. If the biological parent is involved, form your own bond with the children and recognize that for good or bad, the biological parent has a role in the child’s life. Do not try to be the replacement mom/dad, just be yourself. You will find it far less stressful. Along with that…
• If you are a step-parent, leave the discipline of children to the biological parent. Not that you cannot have a role in it, but the biological parent must be the pacesetter for these activities. If you do become the disciplinarian, it can quickly turn into a good-cop/bad-cop situation.
• Create an even playing field — this situation refers to having some of the children living with you and some that you have visitation with. Children can see if one child is favored over another (i.e., kids at your house have iPads, but there is no way you would buy the other kids iPads because it would go to the ex’s house!). Little shows of favoritism like this can make a world of difference in the child’s self confidence and sense of self. Try not to do for one child unless you are willing to do it for all children involved.
• Make time for all parts of the family — the adults are responsible for insuring that time is carved out to form relationships. This commitment means you must make an effort to try to grow a connection. Just because you are now married to that child’s parent does not automatically give you a good relationship with the child. Just like any relationship, it takes time and attention. Find out the child’s interests and engage them with that interest. Your hard work and perseverance will pay off.
• When all else fails, talk it out. You know your child better than anyone. It is OK to ask that child how to build a better relationship. We tend to shy away from the obvious answers on relationships sometimes when we are discouraged or uncomfortable. Even if you do not get the answers you seek, you have sent the message that you value their opinion, and it is important to you that you have a good relationship.
• Talk about it with your partner — do not be shy if you are having trouble blending together a family. You got together with this person hopefully with the knowledge that children were involved, so do not hide from that fact. You will need the support of your partner as this task is not easy nor stress-free.
I hope you have found these tips hopeful. My apologies to those who hoped this article would have a magic bullet that would lead to a quickly assimilated blended family. These families are fantastic to be a part of, but they require a lot of patience and work.
True North Solutions is an outpatient counseling center that provides support for those with mental health, substance use, or life’s other stressful situations. Corey Campbell is a licensed clinical social worker at True North Solutions. He specializes in adults and teens struggling with substance use, anxiety, depression, chronic pain, and other stress-related issues. If you and your family are struggling with family issues, please call True North Solutions at 309-589-8900 or visit our website at www.truenorthsolutions.org.
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