Tips for Blending Families – Remarriage after Divorce
When my husband and I married over 20 years ago our children were 6, 8, 10 and 11. My girls were 8 and 11 and his daughter was 10 and his son was 6. We both had full custody. Divorce and remarriage was challenging for all of us, but we succeeded as a family and all of the kids have grown into wonderful, productive adults with children of their own. Here’s what we learned from our experience.
1 – Get a new place. This may be really hard, especially with the real estate market the way it is, but everyone needs to feel that the house is theirs. Otherwise, somebody is going to feel like a visitor, somebody is going to feel intruded upon, somebody is going to be resentful, somebody is going to feel like an outsider and your family will have difficulty blending.
2 – Have a room for each kid. For the same reasons as stated above, each child needs his own space. If he or she shared with a sibling before, it would be all right to continue that, but if a child has to suddenly share a room there will be problems.
3 – Get counseling as a blended family. Many insurance companies pay for this as long as there is a certified psychologist on staff at the counseling center you choose. It might be once a week for a few months or once a month for a year, but it will be vital for a good, strong start to blending your families and learning about one another.
4 – Start traditions. Pick a new vacation spot. Have a movie night. Make up a family holiday, name it and create activities to associate with it. Have a family board game night – a great way to get everyone to know one another. Plan on making Christmas (Thanksgiving, Easter, the 4th of July) a different day in your house. (We started having Christmas on the weekend before – everybody knew the schedule and it didn’t conflict with step-families or ex-spouses and it took the anxiety away from coordinating pick-ups and drop-offs on Christmas Eve. The tradition has continued and has withstood the pressures of extended families and grandparents now that the kids are married.) Go to church together. Talk about a great tradition! Give your kids a solid foundation and enjoy the blessings.
5 – Decide on consistent discipline, present a united front, but don’t discipline your step-children without your spouse present. This is probably one of the most difficult things to do because sometimes your spouse isn’t present. But, aside from immediate danger, leave the punishing to the natural parent.
6 – Never, never, never say anything bad or even slightly negative about your ex or your spouse’s ex in front of the kids. They already know that you don’t get along any more, don’t make things worse. Remember, your child derives his or her identity from both of you. Do you want him to think he descended from a moron? He will take it to heart and internalize all the negative stuff. Try to say only positive things like “your mommy is a good shopper” or “your daddy is very strong”. You may think your ex is stubborn, but use a phrase like “he knows how to stick to his guns” instead or else say nothing at all.
7 – Don’t try to mark occasions like your anniversary (the day your family became blended), which are important to you, but are not necessarily happy points in the child’s life. Sorry, but they may never acknowledge your anniversary, it’s actually a sad point in their lives.
8 – Treat all the kids equally and make sure they know that no one gets more allowance, more presents, more privileges than anyone else. They are very, very much aware if someone else breaks the rules, gets away with something, gets a special privilege or receives extra attention. Be sure to make it well know that everyone gets the same treatment and then give them all the same treatment.
9 – Explain really, really carefully to your own parents that they are to think of your step-children as their own grandchildren and to treat them no differently. How sad for a child to grow up loving someone as their grandparent and then being told by that person that he isn’t really their grandfather. How sad for a kid to overhear his grandmother say that she has four grandchildren when there are six kids.
10 – Schedule visitations so that the family is all together or all away on the same weekends. Kids don’t want to miss anything or find out that you took the step-kids shopping while they were away. The added advantage is that now you and your new spouse have some alone time together to keep the new marriage strong. Good luck and God bless.