There are 6 important questions to consider blending a family.
Usually by the time a couple realizes just how complicated raising a stepfamily is it’s always too late. Too many tears, hurt feelings and strained relationships. The automatic response is to quit. After all, it wasn’t working right? Well, this would be easily avoided if couples looked beyond their undying love for each other and spend more time addressing the inevitably critical issues that arise when two families become one.
Don’t get me wrong, love is definitely important but it will not be the only thing that determines your success as a couple and a family. If you are a single parent dating or you are dating a single parent and are thinking of making that next big step of becoming one happy family then it’s important that you sit down and come up with the answers to these important questions
How will you make the relationship a priority?
Couple strength is very important in step-family life. The couple needs to work together as a team if they are going to make it work. Day to day family life presents very unique challenges for the couple and if they are unable to cope and steer the family in the right direction, conflict becomes the norm.
Unresolved conflict further strains the relationship.
It’s also important for the couple to consciously set time apart for them to be together and spend time away from the children. This helps them to reconnect with each other and keep their relationship going and fun. Usually, there is competition between the stepparent and stepchildren for the affection of the father/mother. It’s important to know and therefore balance time between a parent and the children as well as with their partner.
Remember your children will learn about marriage from watching the two of you.
How will you help the kids adjust to the new family?
Children take much longer than adults to adjust to the new family setting. They are still grieving the loss of one parent either through the separation, divorce or death. Accepting a new parent will take time. Depending on how old the children are, it’s important to have this discussion with them in a manner that they understand. The biological parent should do this, with the most important message being that they will love and cherish them despite the new addition to the family. It’s important for children to know this and be constantly reassured of their parents love even as adults.
Let the children guide you with regard to the pace. Their actions will always tell you if you are moving too fast or if they are uncomfortable in any given situation. Also, remember that not all kids will warm up to the new stepparent at the same pace. Give each their own time and freedom to adjust at their pace.
How will you handle finances?
This is a very important conversation to have with your partner. Blending families means finances will be blended as well. Some new arrangements and adjustments may have to be made since someone new is coming into the picture. Factors that come into play include who has permanent custody of the kids and who has visitation rights, is there spousal support being paid? School fees among others.
Money issues and related arguments is one of the leading causes of divorce based on several studies conducted over the years. For step-families, this is also a huge area of concern due to the other complexities. It’s therefore important to have the money conversation, iron things out and agree. Financial Discussions Couples Should Have Before They Get Married
How will you handle Discipline?
Discipline is a huge part of parenting. Most people think of punishment when they hear the word ‘discipline’. However, it also involves steering the children in the right direction, instilling the right values and a sense of responsibility for them in the home, at school and in the society they live in as they grow older.
Many stepparents make the mistake of stepping into this role before they have earned the authority to do so. What follows is the children do not obey or respect him/her and they push back. It’s therefore important for the biological parent to take the lead here. As the new parent bonds and establishes the relationship with the children, slowly his/her authority will grow and can slowly take on some disciplining tasks.
How will you deal with the Ex-in-law?
I call them ex-in-laws because just like you in-laws your partner’s ex is here to stay whether you like it or not. Thanks to children your partner will always have to be in touch with his/her ex to discuss matters concerning them. This may arouse a feeling of inadequacy for in your partner, jealousy and other insecurities.
The ex may also be all up in your family business, always calling your partner, making unreasonable requests and so on. If this is not handled well it can escalate into serious conflict. Be sure to discuss and agree on matters concerning child support; how will the payments be made and how often, visitation rights and schedules, rules for engagement etc. again the biological parent here needs to step up and take the lead and establish this firmly with their ex-partner
Are you equipped with the knowledge and tools?
I find it very peculiar that people take their careers more seriously than they do their family life. At work, they have no problem admitting the areas of weakness and those that require improvement. They draw up personal training and development plans to help them learn and grow in these areas. Those in stepfamilies recognize the problem and the challenges everyday life presents and yet they do not seek help to learn about stepfamily life and how they can be better stepparents for their children and better partners for their spouse.
The biggest mistake made in blended families is operating them as a normal family. This backfires because they are simply not the same. Therefore seek the services of a professional to help you understand your new family dynamics and equip you with the right strategies to help you thrive.