Starting a blended family is exciting and nerve wrecking at the same time. Will the children like their new step parent? Will the step parent get along with their new step children? Will the children like each other? How will things be with the other biological parent(s)? How will the finances be handled? What will the living arrangements be? What if your parenting styles differ?
The beginning of my second marriage was so exciting. My then husband was doing all of the things that I wanted. He would take my two daughters out to the park to ride their bikes so that I could read and get a breather, take me out to plays and to do nice things, and really was an overall delight. As everyone knows once the honeymoon phase is over things can get a little tricky.
I had a pretty strict parenting style. My girls got away with nothing if I found out about it. Things changed when we had our son. Our son was his first and only child at the time and my third. When you have an “ours” baby it can really bring your parenting under a lot of scrutiny. How do you balance the competing needs of your existing children with the new baby, and try to keep things as fair as possible?
Take Leslie and Gary for instance. Leslie has two biological children with her ex-husband. A daughter age 7, and a son age 10. Gary has three biological children. One son with his first wife age 19, and two daughters with his second wife ages 12 & 9. Gary and Leslie recently married and are trying to figure out how to blend. Gary has a strict demanding style with his children. He expects them to obey on command and punishes them harshly when they do not. Leslie on the other hand is firm but very loving and attempts to teach lessons more so than harshly disciplining her children.
Leslie’s children are not adjusting well to Gary’s harsh style and barely want to come over for their weekend visits to their mother and new step-father. Gary’s younger girls live with them full-time and feel like they do not have to listen to Leslie because her parenting style is unlike their father’s. What are Leslie and Gary to do? Should they give up on their marriage because the children are not adjusting well?
I’m here to tell you there is hope for couples like Gary and Leslie. Some of these things my ex-husband and I did, and others we should have done. They are things that my current fiancé and I are taking to heart as we prepare for our new blend. Here are a few tips for establishing ground rules at the beginning of a new blend. When I say at the beginning, I mean it. Habits get formed quickly and you want the right habits formed up front.
- Take the time to talk through your expectations with your new partner/spouse. Really dig deep on what you want and do not want in the relationship, and discuss your deal breakers. Discuss how discipline will be addressed and routines to put in place for consistency in the household.
- Discuss how to handle the various children who will be involved in the blend. Even if one or both of you have adult children, still discuss them because they will inevitably be involved at some point in time. This is a good time to disclose any medical, mental or emotional concerns and to give a heads up on any behavioral concerns.
- Discuss how to handle the other biological parent(s). Your new partner or spouse may not realize that your child’s other biological parent is high conflict, uninterested, strung out on drugs or a helicopter parent. Lay out how to deal with the other biological parent and what to expect as you move forward. This is a good time to review custody and visitation agreements as well as any child support or alimony obligations.
- Openly discuss your house rules and what the living arrangements will be. One couple recently married and moved into the husband’s house that he previously had with his ex-wife. His three children had large sized rooms to themselves while her three children were piled together into the smallest room in the house. Not very ideal. A good rule of thumb is to iron these details out prior to making any big moves. If it is feasible, it is a good idea to get an “ours” house or work toward eventually getting a home that belongs to both of you.
- Exercise patience and understand that blending takes a lot of time and effort. Leslie and Gary eventually went to counseling and learned that they had moved entirely too fast and they had overlooked how those changes impacted their children. Leslie’s ex-husband got full custody of her children in the divorce. Her children lived with her ex-husband throughout the week and visited her every weekend. Gary got full custody of his children when he divorced and they visit his ex-wife every other weekend. Within a year both sets of children were uprooted from their childhood homes, had to leave their regular schools, and got thrown into situations that they were ill prepared to embrace. Leslie and Gary had been dating while they were both married to their exes. They decided that it was time to break things off with their current spouses and make their thing official. It was a huge blowup and the children were caught in the middle trying to make sense of it all.No matter the circumstance when it comes to blending, give everyone time to settle in and make gradual changes. Too many huge changes at once can be confusing and difficult for everyone.
- Openly discuss how you will handle finances and your estate plan. Inevitably finances are going to be an issue. Some couples in second or subsequent marriages choose to keep their finances separate. Some couples combine their finances. Decide what works for you, but do not skip this step. Discuss how bills will be handled and what each partner is expected to contribute to the household. Discuss expenses surrounding the children and how they will be handled. Discuss any debt obligations, credit scores, insurance policies, and so on. Also openly discuss what your spouse or partner is to do in the event of your death or disability and who the key players are in case of an emergency. A good rule of thumb is to have an emergency binder containing all of the important information about your life.
One thing that my second husband and I did that helped us through some of the tougher times in our marriage was to hold family meetings and discuss things that were going on in our family. My daughters started to feel as though they were being pushed aside by him as our son got older and more of my ex- husband’s time and attention went into our son. No more outings to the park to ride bikes, no more outings to the library, play places or anything else that he used to do with them. They wondered if they had done something wrong. The family meetings gave them a place to voice their concerns and openly discuss how they were really feeling.
Only you can decide what will work for your family. I think that communication is a huge key to getting through any situation and mustering up the ability to move forward in the face of challenges. Blending is not impossible, it just takes a lot of additional work on the part of all parties involved.
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