They say that love is better the second time around. Today, that second chance at love often comes as a package deal. Step families or blended families are the new norm, but that doesn’t mean it’s an easy process. Whether you’re introducing your kids to a new step mom, or you’re the new one in the family getting to know her kids, it’s a lot of work turning two separate families into one. Tiny details can turn into major issues, so prepare yourself ahead of time with information and a plan.
Respect the Past
Your children had two parents before the divorce, and they still do in most cases. While you may have a strong urge to create an entirely new family entity, the children may see this as insulting to their non-custodial parent. The ex is not your enemy; in fact, the ex is someone your kids love very much. Respect their feelings and the history behind them. It’s the rare family that can invite ex-spouses over for holiday dinners. You don’t have to go that far. Treat the ex with polite manners and respect in front of your wife and children. If you can smile and shake hands with a horrible boss or client for the sake of money, you can do the same with the ex for the sake of your children’s feelings.
Show a United Front
Children are master manipulators. Your darling children? Oh, yes, yours and every other child on the planet. They love to play one parent off against the other, and nowhere is this more evident than in step families. Stop this game before it even starts by presenting a united front with your wife. Decide ahead of time on all major issues, and show the kids that you’re in agreement with the decision. Back up your spouse in every decision she makes, no matter how small. Never give the children the opportunity to run to one of you to get an alternate opinion. Make them know that they’ll always get the same decision, no matter which one of you they ask.
Create New Traditions
Creating a new blended family is like walking through a minefield every day. You’re constantly bombarded with statements of “But we always do it that way!” when you try to enjoy just about any family activity. From having breakfast on weekend mornings to important holidays, family life is made up of traditions large and small. Keep some of the more important ones to let the children know you’re not taking away cherished family time. Simply expand the tradition to include one more family member. But more importantly, begin to create your own family traditions for everyone to enjoy. Nothing special on the weekends? Start a tradition of a pancake bar on Saturday morning, serve herbal tea with teddy bears every Sunday afternoon or choose a sport like kite flying or rollerblading you can all do together every week. Start a cooking school in your home and teach the kids to create a new specialty dish every month. Make up fun and creative ways to celebrate holidays, or find new international holidays to enjoy. the point is to add new memories in a layer on top of the old ones, creating a tapestry of blended family life.
Yes, it’s stressful and an unbelievable amount of work. Turning single parents into a blended family takes endless communication, planning and compromise. Work your plan out with your spouse before you take the first step, and you may eventually stop being step mom and step dad, and turn into a simple mom and dad.