Divorce is a common, if unfortunate, occurrence in American society. Often, when two people dissolve a marriage, it drastically changes not just their lives, but the lives of their children as well. The children of divorced parents undergo their own emotional journey as they adjust to their new reality. When either parent remarries, this creates a new dynamic for everyone, particularly when other children are involved.
When two people who each have one or more children from a prior relationship marry, they create a new family unit. This is called a stepfamily or blended family. Although blended families aren’t new or uncommon, they do come with their own set of challenges. To best handle these challenges and create a successful and cohesive household, it’s important people know what they’re getting into and properly prepare.
Have a Plan for Remarriage
Jumping into a marriage that combines two families can have chaotic and less-than-desirable results. Without a plan, the new family dynamic may suffer from more stress and unease than is necessary. When the prospect of marriage becomes more than a passing thought, there are things that the couple needs to consider and prepare for.
Where to Live
Deciding where to live is a smart first step. For some couples, this can be a simple and obvious choice if only one person has a house that’s large enough to accommodate the new family. Unfortunately, it isn’t always that simple. If both parties have a house, they’ll need to decide which home to live in and which to sell or rent. Homes carry family memories and it may be difficult for children to move away or have someone else move in. Couples should take this into consideration when deciding what to do. Other considerations include proximity to schools and family.
Finances are always a sensitive topic that should be a serious point of discussion before the wedding. Couples should agree on whether to combine their money or keep it separate. Another way is to settle on a hybrid option. For example, an agreed-upon amount of money is combined into a joint household and savings account, while each partner also maintains separate personal accounts.
Confront and Resolve Issues with the Ex
Problems from previous relationships can resurface when one plans to remarry. It’s important that partners discuss any reoccurring issues that may arise concerning an ex and have a plan to deal with it in a way that won’t upset the family dynamic.
Anticipate Parenting Adjustments
Different people have different parenting styles. These differences can cause a rift between couples and anger and frustration with the children. While this may not be an issue before a couple marries, it can become an enormous problem for a blended family.
Couples should discuss what each considers acceptable and unacceptable behavior from children well before getting married. Together, they can work to create agreeable rules for the household and present these rules to all the children as a united front.
It’s important to keep in mind that blended families happen because of a marriage between two people who love each other. In trying to blend two families, couples should not lose focus on the reasons they married. Depending on their age, kids may feel embarrassed, competitive, jealous, or left out when their parent shows affection to a new spouse. This should not, however, be a deterrent.
Finding private time to be a newlywed couple can be difficult when children are involved, but it is crucial to the quality and longevity of their relationship. In order to nurture a new marriage, couples will need to ensure that their relationship remains one of their top priorities. To do that, they can schedule routine private time without their children present.
Parenting other people’s children is a sensitive topic that, if mishandled, can ruin a marriage. Because a child already has two parents, it is up to them to discipline their children in most instances. Even if one of the child’s parents is deceased, an overly authoritative stepparent can be met with resistance and resentment.
While one should look out for their stepchildren to ensure they aren’t breaking family rules and are not in immediate harm’s way, it’s often best to let the biological parent do any necessary disciplining.
Both sets of parents have to have realistic expectations about how their kids bond with one another and with their step-parent. They must keep in mind that children are going through a lot of changes and it may take time for them to feel comfortable with the new additions to their lives.
Children adjust and bond with stepparents differently depending on their age. Younger children under the age of 10 are often the most accepting, especially if they are treated with kindness and positivity. Preteens between the ages of 10 and 14 years old, however, seem to have the most difficulty with a new step-family. They often require more attention and love from their parent and may take longer to accept their stepfamily.
Initially, stepparents and children can take the first steps toward bonding by communicating with and getting to know one another. Kids should be made to feel valued and safe. One can show growing affection for their spouse’s children through kindness, support, and patience. Establishing family routines such as a movie or game nights will also help with family bonding.
Handling Non-Residential Parents
Children’s ability to cope with a divorce often depends on how frequently they see the non-custodial parent. When that parent visits often, the child can maintain a relationship and adjust a little easier. Unfortunately, when one parent remarries, the non-custodial parent often visits less and less often, which can have a negative effect on the child. Even during times like this, it is important that kids never hear one parent speak badly of the other. Parents should be supportive of their children and reassure them that they are loved.
- Helping Children Understand Divorce
- Family Relations: Helping Children Understand Divorce (PDF)
- Parenthood in America: Stepfamilies
- Tips to Help Stepparents Have Successful Marriages
- How to Tell Kids About Divorce: An Age-by-Age Guide
- Helping Children Cope with Divorce (PDF)
- How to Help Your Kids Navigate a Blended Family
- Helping Children Cope with Separation and Divorce
- Couples Considering a Blended Family
- Blended Family and Step-Parenting Tips
- Nine Stepparenting Do’s and Don’ts
- Blended Families
- Blended Family Issues
- How to Help Your Child Navigate Your Remarriage
- Planning for Parenting Time (PDF)
- Tips for Successful Stepfamilies: Moving Your Marriage from Surviving to Thriving
- Solve the Four Biggest Problems Blended Families Face
- How to Help Your Child After a Breakup or Divorce
- Disciplining Dilemma: The Role of the Stepparent