The choice to blend two separate families in remarriage is not an easy decision. In most cases, it takes the new family unit several years to develop an accepted, fluid group dynamic in which each person feels comfortable in their new role. Having patience and reasonable expectations at the outset is essential.
While it is already the job of most children, particularly teenagers, to test boundaries, this becomes all the more amplified in the new blended family. In this environment, a strong, solid couple relationship will make all the difference. Couples who are influenced by being popular or by feelings of guilt will emit signals of vulnerability that will be immediately gleaned by the children. These cracks in the new foundation will only fuel any anger or resentment by kids who are feeling insecure or unhappy about the new situation.
Check in with each other frequently, back each other up and keep to higher ground. Managing your emotions, with keen awareness to resist taking any of this personally, will allow you to maintain a broad perspective on the emerging family unit. Sharing your feelings with one another without blaming, creating conflict resolution plans, and developing rules and systems that are open to re-evaluation all help to guide you along.
Another helpful idea is the Family Meeting. Once a month or so, find some time to all sit down and take turns letting each new family member speak and feel heard. It is so important for children and parents to feel that someone listens and cares about how they are feeling. You could even try Reflective Listening, where you repeat what the person has said to validate that you have, in fact, heard them; then ask “Is that right?” to make sure you are understanding and “Is there more?” to assess if they have more to share. Not only will this affirm the shared thoughts and emotions, it will also prevent talking over one another and model good communication skills for their future relationships.
Encouragement and positive language is also necessary for the new family to flourish and grow in trust and love. Criticism between children or between child and parent is abusive and especially caustic to people in transition. Likewise, it is paramount that children not hear negative commentary about the non-custodial parent, no matter the history or truth of it. It will be particularly difficult for children to learn to trust their parents if they are exposed to negative banter.
And finally, don't forget to allow yourself to invite gratitude into your daily interactions, with your partner, your children and all those around you. Sharing how much you appreciate the people in your life goes a long way toward cultivating the blended family you envision.
While the challenges of creating a blended family are very real, so are the rewards and magic of that co-creation. Stay flexible, open-minded and ever humble to the task before you. Sustained awareness of the many messages - obvious and otherwise - that are shared as you journey together into your blended life will be your barometer – pay careful attention to them.
Certified Health and Lifestyle Coach, Sheryl Melanson, partners with people to transform limiting habits into mindful choices that express their values, create action plans and recalibrate their lifestyle to optimal well-being.