A topic near and dear to my heart, yet seemingly not discussed enough, is parenting with blended families.
Parenting in itself, is quite the undertaking. Raising little humans is nothing to take lightly, and offers its own levels and layers of complexity.
Now mix in children of different ages… from different parents… and parenting can become an entirely different ball game. At the end of the day, making blended families work can be challenging, and requires much self sacrifice.
Blended Family Statistics
By definition, a blended family is defined as any household that includes a stepparent, step-sibling, or half-sibling.
As of 2019, more than 3.9 million children live in a household with a stepparent in the United States.
Not only that, but two-parent households are on the decline in the United States as divorce, remarriage and cohabitation are on the rise. With all this in mind, how should we be approaching parenting with blended families in 2021? Below are my top 3 takeaways, as a Mom of my own blended family.
Parenting With Blended Families Tip #1: Plan Ahead
Like many things in life, planning is key.
There will be conflicting events and plans; schedules with any family can be difficult to juggle. As parents, there’s a responsibility to try to balance it all – make that baseball game but also the piano rehearsal, be at that PTA meeting but also ensure that dinner is on the table…
Negotiating schedules with your spouse and even your older children in the family, ahead of time, is extremely helpful. This also helps to verbally set expectations, communicating that you DO care about each and every engagement that is on the calendar… but here is what is truly reasonable and achievable for the week.
It won’t be easy. But the more frequent and upfront that you can be with the communication, the less chance that someone will be upset at the end of the day.
Time and commitment to nurturing relationships across the family is paramount. As a side note, it can be helpful to communicate with your workplace or work team, letting them know about your (potentially new) family situation. Ask for grace and flexibility with your work team, letting them know about certain things that you may need to prioritize for the sake of family dynamics.
This isn’t a suggestion that self-care or personal time should fall to the wayside. Yet when temptation might creep in to stay at work that extra hour and miss family dinner as a consequence… ask yourself if it’s truly worth it, for the sake of the entire family.
Blended Families Tip #2: Be Open and Transparent
It’s my belief that the nuances of blended families are not discussed enough.
When children of any age suddenly have another parental figure in their life, they will likely struggle with it. As a family, it’s not helpful at all to attempt to move through these changes and shifts as if nothing is wrong, or different.
Communicate, communicate, communicate.
Ask your new family how they’re doing with the changes, what might be bothering them, what are they struggling with?
Make space every week for open discussions, and ensure that you’re aligned with your spouse on your vision for your family. The two of you should be operating in stride around discipline and family expectations.
Lastly, through communication and conversations, be sure to convey acceptance. If a member of the family is struggling or unhappy – that’s OK – and it needs to be conveyed. Sit with each member of the family exactly where they are at, and with time and discussions, progress can be made.
Blended Family Tip #3: Be Patient
For busy moms and dads juggling work commitments, social events, and self-care, the temptation to avoid the time suggested above can easily creep in. You might have the best intentions to have those daily or weekly conversations, or make the time to be present, but as tasks and commitments pile up, they are often the first thing to fall to the wayside.
Parenting within a blended family takes time, commitment, and patience with the process.
According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, it can take one to two years for blended families to adjust to the changes.2 But parents who are proactive in reducing and addressing potential problems can make the adjustment period smoother.
Some weeks will be extremely challenging, and that’s to be expected. A key to the equation when it comes to this transition is forgiveness within the entire family… including yourself.
You won’t always get it right. Your spouse won’t always get it right, and your children won’t either. That’s normal, and perfectly ok. No matter how distant or disengaged a child might feel in the moment, trust the process and know that the time you’re putting in is worth it.
It’s a process that takes patience, and grace. Do your best to value the differences across the family, while still celebrating the new beginning of the blended family. You have the opportunity to create beautiful, new memories, while growing a new and diverse tribe.
Final Thoughts Around Blended Families
In order to truly ‘blend’ your blended family, it takes time. At times it may feel exhausting, maybe even overwhelming… but like all-things parenting, it can also be incredibly rewarding.
Be mindful that, while a new marriage can be happy, it also signals the end of the previous family dynamics. And that can be tough for kids who are still struggling to deal with the fact that their biological parents are no longer together or that their time of being an only child with heaps of attention has come to an end.
As time goes on, your mindfulness and patience as parents will pay off, and your new family will move towards feeling more like a solid, functional, loving unit. The work is hard, but pays dividends in the long-run. You’ve got this.