Part of the success of building a blended family happens when the partners – Mom, Dad and their children – can deal with the differences inherent in all stepfamilies. Differences in parenting, discipline, and lifestyle may become more pronounced and can become a source of frustration for the children.
Recognizing the ways that stepfamilies are different can help stepparents anticipate and accept some of the problems down the road and can be an important first step in achieving a healthy blended family.
Some common differences in blended families:
- Age differences. In blended families, children with birthdays closer to one another than possible with natural siblings are a little more common. The new stepparent may also be only a few years older than the eldest child.
- Parental inexperience. Sometimes one of the stepparents has no children and has never been a parent before. He or she may have no experience of the different stages children go through.
- Changes in family relationships. If both parents remarry partners with existing families, it can mean children suddenly find themselves with different roles in two blended families. For example, one child may be the eldest in one stepfamily but the youngest in the other. Blending families may also mean one child loses his or her uniqueness as the only boy or girl in the family.
- Difficulty in accepting a new parent. If children have spent a long time in a one-parent family, or if children still nurture hopes of reconciling their parents, it may be difficult for them to accept a new person.
- Coping with demands of others. In blended families, planning family events becomes complicated, especially when there are custody considerations. Children may grow frustrated when vacations, parties, or weekend trips now require complicated arrangements that include their new step-siblings.
- Changes in family traditions. Most families have very different ideas about annual events such as holidays, birthdays, and family vacations. Kids may feel resentful if they’re forced to go along with someone else’s routine.
- Parental insecurities. A stepparent may be anxious about how he or she compares to a child’s natural parent, or may grow resentful if the stepchildren compare them unfavorably to the natural parent.
Parents should strive for unity when it comes to household living, including rules, chores, discipline, and allowance. A list of family rules may be useful in allocating assignments. Consistent guidelines and strategies shows the children that both spouses intend to deal with issues in a similar way. This should diminish some feelings of unfairness.
At first, the stepparent is more of a friend or counselor rather than a disciplinarian, and the biological parent remains responsible for discipline until the stepparent develops solid bonds with the kids.
One challenge to creating a cohesive blended family is establishing trust. Discipline builds trust in the family.
The children may feel uncertain about their new family and resist efforts to get to know them. Stepparents should not take their lack of enthusiasm personally. The children do not know what it will be like to share their parent with a new spouse, let alone his or her kids. These feelings are normal, and they pass in time.