How to Keep the Peace In A Newly Blended Family
Blended Family Marriage Advice
Dear April Masini,
I am getting married next Saturday, and it's a second marriage for both of us. We both have children from first marriages, and everyone is around the same age. Some will be living with us while others will not; it's sort of a complicated situation. I forsee a lot of arguments and tug-of-wars, especially since everyone will be moving into "my" house, where my kids have lived for the past 10 years.
What kinds of things can my future husband and I do to reduce or diffuse any tensions that arise? Please give me some relationship advice to keep my family getting along.
Sincerely, Soon-to-be Step-mom"
April Masini's Advice :
Dear Soon-to-be Step-mom,
Step-families, or blended families are a tricky business because the blending of children who have different custody schedules at Mom's house and Dad's house suddenly have a new step-mother or step-father. No matter how long they've known each other, how long Mom and Step-dad or Dad and Step-mom dated, becoming a family under one roof is a transition that does not happen over night. Flexibility and understanding are key, and knowing that love is not always an at-first sight affair when introducing step-siblings and step-parents to children, will help ease the bumps.
When birthdays or family traditions arise, the best way to allow for a new family situation -- is to ask the child what they want. If it appears that this question creates too much stress on a child -- and you'll know because your child will not want to answer the question or will start to cry -- then make the decision with the help of your partner if you have one and/or your ex if you get along. You can celebrate birthdays at both houses. You can celebrate birthdays at one house one year and the other house the next year. You can celebrate Thanksgiving at Mom's house and Christmas Eve at Dad's house and reverse it on other years. Mother's Day should always see the biological children with their own mother, and the same goes for Father's Day. Sorry, folks. Biological grandmother has her own children to celebrate with. The children go with the biological mom or the dad on Mother's Day or Father's Day. It’s a good idea to have these important days – no matter how small you may think they are – written in to a court ordered custody schedule – or added if you haven’t done so already. The custody schedule can prevent drama if everything is spelled out – even down to the hour. Whether or not you like the schedule, it will be clear and enforceable.
Most importantly is to instill a sense that even though things are different, they're okay, and that your family -- although divided or expanded -- is going to be okay. Talking and making friends with other families in similar situations will make your children feel more normal, and less like geeks.
And a tip for being a great step-mom or great step-dad: have your step-kids call their bio moms and dads on all of these holidays when they are in your custody. And pick up the phone yourself and wish your step-child’s mother or father a Happy Birthday, Happy Mother’s Day or Merry Christmas. It’s the right thing to do.
Blended Family Friction
One of the biggest obstacles to harmony in step-families is the expectation for friction. Many times problems that arise in stepfamilies are no different from problems that arise in "in-tact" families -- in fact, they are often more benign than problems that arise in "in-tact" families. So, why does it seem like adult step-families have more problems than "in-tact" families?
- No more secrets. Adult step-families don't have the same insulation to keep things private that in-tact families do. There are two families instead of one, so there is less of a need to protect one family's image in step-families. In fact, there is more of a need to compete and prove one side or person is right or wrong. This brings problems to the surface and out in the open. It also makes it seem like step-families have more problems, but the truth is, they just have exposed problems.
- Regularity. Step-families don't have the illusion of regular communication that "in-tact" families do. "In-tact" families see each other regularly, where as step-families see each other less regularly, so when they do, problems come to the surface because there seems to be fewer chances to straighten things out. "In-tact" families always know that there's another family get together right around the corner, so if a problem doesn't get straightened out immediately, it will, at the next get-together.
- Loosen control. The more rigid or controlling member of a step-family is sure to lose out and the less controlling members are sure to feel, ironically, more in control. The more people and different sets of rules and expectations there are, the less opportunity there is for tight rule. There are often two fathers, two mothers or one father and a girlfriend, or any number of combinations. Trying to control this extended family is nearly impossible. A better solution is to loosen expectations.