Marriage Can Create Pressure for Blended Families
Q:I am divorced with two teens ages 14 and 16. My future husband is also divorced with 15-year-old twins. As the wedding approaches, tensions are rising amongst the kids. We will all be living together in a new home. Since both their dad and I have sole custody with limited visitation with their other parents, we have moved slowly to get to this point. Initially, it looked like everyone was excited about the new arrangement. Now it seems like insecurities and fears about the future are developing. Do you have any suggestions for us/blended families?
A: Congratulations on your upcoming wedding. Marrying again can be quite scary, especially when kids are involved. Teens also can often create some resistance if they are not yet ready. Hopefully, they have had enough time to adjust to the divorces and each of your parenting styles. If you are thinking about changing the way you parent your own children, make sure those changes happen before this marriage so the new step-parent doesn’t get blamed. You want the transition to be as smooth as possible. It is a major change no matter what.
You said tensions are rising amongst the kids. It is easiest for you to address if you directly witness the problems, so you can see their foundation. If you are getting this information through a third party, let that person be part of brainstorming possible solutions. The entire family should strive for excellent communication as you face all the predictable bumps ahead.
Are the kids involved in the wedding? Are they willing participants, or are they being pushed into a role not of their choosing? If you have unwilling participants, consider revising your plans. Showing flexibility at this time will send a strong message of working with them instead of against them. If you have someone not yet ready for the remarriage, make sure the bio-parent and that teen have enough one- on-one time to talk about it. Honor that child’s feelings, but no one has to change the decision to marry because of it.
Blended Families: Causes of Tension
There are several things that might create some tension. The children might be afraid that they will have less time with their parent. Each pair of kids might be grieving their “family” time with their mom or dad. All of the kids might be experiencing some of the tension their other parent might have about the new marriage. When parents remarry, it truly means there is no going back to the way it once was. In addition, there is the question of how the kids get along with each other. This will take time and includes creating a framework to help them all feel part of something new. Each of these possible problems has some obvious solutions.
Remember, time can be one of the most important factors in this transition.You probably haven’t made this decision without many conversations about your children, taking into consideration their personalities and needs, and their relationship with their other parent. I hope that in these discussions, you both have come to terms with how you plan to handle your new family and the predictable issues that commonly occur in any family. Yet don’t be surprised when the reality of the marriage shakes someone up.
Both you and your fiancé have a lot of experience parenting. There is no reason to change the way each of you parent now. With teenagers, you not only want the biological parent to be the main authority, but you also want to make sure you never compete with the other biological parent. This will put you in the best position to be in a good step-relationship with your new family members. The same will be true for your fiancé with your children. As a step-parent, being able to listen non-judgmentally creates an opportunity for a very special type of mentoring to occur. We all benefit from living with a large support system committed to helping us succeed. This new marriage can provide that for everyone in the family.
If you have different styles of parenting, and different ways your families have operated, plan ahead now. As you approach setting up your new house rules, have an open discussion about what rules everyone is used to following. Be willing to be flexible and make changes that respect everyone wherever possible.
House rules often are created around:
- Communicating meetings, appointments, and special events
- Bedtimes and curfews
- Morning routines
- Homework and TV times
- Computer and phone use
- Home care (picking up after oneself daily)
- Cleaning (house, room, laundry, bathroom, yard)
- Family time, parent-child one-on-one time, couple time, individual time and social time
Taking the time to create a routine for your new family and letting all the teens be part of negotiating the parts that are important to them can create a clear path for a good beginning. Think of these as guidelines where the underlining values of each person are important. In your new family, everyone has a voice, the family supports the individual and the individuals support the family. Do not expect any of these to fall into place without positive and supportive communication. Notice when things work rather than when they don’t. Be consistent in praise for all the children. Remember, no one is to become the heavy. Your kids are old enough to come up with a logical response to problems that arise. As a couple, your communication will need to be clear enough to make sure you are talking to each other about how the kids are handling the new situation.
Value and Respect Your New Stepchildren
Both parents will want to take every opportunity to get to know the interests of their new step-children. Make sure there are no expectations of being close or even loving the new family member. If it happens, great! However, the most important expectation should be that of valuing and respecting each family member. It is critical to honor the special relationship between the biological children and both of their biological parents.
When something goes wrong, try to handle it thoughtfully. First, make sure you think it through before responding. When possible, talk to your co-parent and when necessary the other biological parent as you decide upon your best response. Let the bio parent take the lead in the discussion (and, if appropriate, the other parent is present for support and understanding). If other family members are part of the issue, be careful in deciding who should be part of the discussion. Always work to allow anyone who has even made a bad judgment call to save face and find a way to learn from his or her errors. You do not want to shame anyone, but instead focus on individual strengths to overcome problems. This is part of creating a safe and strong family.
You and your fiancé will be the role models for showing respect, appreciation and love both between each other and toward each member of the family. Doing this can instill hope in all the children for good future relationships in their lives. The problems you face, you face together with many good ideas about how to learn from them and be changed as a result. Good luck!
Active Parenting for Stepfamilies: A Class for Blended Families
When a stepfamily is formed, it’s important – but not always easy – for everyone to build good relationships. In the six-week class, parents and stepparents will learn: realistic expectations, relationship-building skills, effective communication tools, problem solving, how to merge different values and cultures, and how to handle kids who live in two households. Learn more at fcsok.org/classes.