Getting married is a big step. The adjustment to living with another person takes patience, empathy and a willingness to work together to overcome problems. These characteristics are even more vital in a second marriage in which children are involved.
Getting married is a big step. The adjustment to living with another person takes patience, empathy and a willingness to work together to overcome problems. These characteristics are even more vital in a second marriage in which children are involved. Creating a blended family with different histories, traditions and backgrounds can feel like a daunting task. How will the children react to a new parent in their home? Will they get along and learn to love each other, or will the household be filled with constant bickering? How will discipline be handled and who will carry it out? How can we make decisions that take into account all the different needs and personalities involved? While there are no easy answers on how to successfully blend two families, there are certain things that parents can do to help reduce conflict and pave the way for positive family relationships.
1. Discuss feelings in advance
Let your children express their feelings about the new adult in the family as well as the couple’s feelings about assuming new roles. Don’t scold or punish your children if they express negative feelings about the upcoming marriage. Be patient and understanding about their concerns. Reassure them that you won’t stop loving them just because you have a new spouse. Make sure your children have plenty of time to get to know your future spouse along his or her children before combining into one household.
2. Include the children in your wedding plans
Allow your children to participate in the ceremony if they wish. Consider delaying the honeymoon trip until several weeks after the wedding so that your children do not feel abandoned in favor of the new relationship. Another idea is to plan a family vacation that includes the children soon after the wedding. This will give you a chance to get to know one another in a fun and relaxing environment.
3. Start fresh in a new setting
If at all possible, move into a new home together. Neutral territory helps minimize feelings of being an outsider or being invaded. Do not overlook the needs of nonresident stepchildren who need separate space to give them a sense of belonging in the new home.
4. Let the children decide what they will call the stepparent
Don’t force your children to call your spouse “Mom” or “Dad” if they are not comfortable with that. Usually they feel comfortable with first names, but younger children who have no contact with a biological parent may be pleased to have someone to call "Dad".
Although a previously overburdened single parent may welcome a supportive co-parent, some sort of bond between stepparent and stepchild has to be established. Until this bond has been formed, it is best to let the biological parent handle discipline. The stepparent can be an emotional support to the biological parent and discuss ideas about discipline. Over time, children will accept the co-parenting role of the stepparent.
A. Lynn Scoresby, founder and president of My Family Track , First Answers , and Achievement Synchrony , and has been a marriage and family psychologist for more than 35 years. He has published more than 20 books and training programs.