It’s not easy to blend families.
Sixteen percent of American children live in blended families, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In fact, 1,300 new step-families are formed every day, and 40 percent of American families are blended.
And yet, research suggests that 60-70 percent of marriages involving children from a previous marriage fail – likely impacted by a host of factors, including how incredibly difficult it can be to bring new spouses together with children from different families into one household.
In decades of family law practice, I’ve seen many co-parenting issues arise. How — or if — to discipline step-children, insecurities that your children will prefer a new step-parent over a biological parent, worries that one or all of your kids won’t accept your new partner – and these are just some of the many things that can go wrong when enmeshing families.
Of course, all of this can be prevented – or at least handled with care BEFORE a remarriage takes place.
When you know you’re going to blend families, start by having a conversation with your soon-to-be new spouse about your values and concerns. Your values are the values your children have and expect. Before you blend, make sure you’re aligned in that regard.
Make sure it can work.
I once had a case where a new spouse was jealous of the harmonious coparenting their partner had with their ex. But harmonious coparenting is a blessing – and a good thing for the children! If a new partner can’t see this or understand it, I’d consider that a red flag.
If it’s just different from what they know, it can be helpful to address the feelings that might arise – sadness that it’s not the same way in their coparenting relationship or envy, perhaps. Once the feelings are acknowledged, you can move on to practical, logical steps toward aligning your values and goals to be on the same page.
In every blended family, it’s imperative to draw reasonable boundaries. Get everyone on the same page. Harmonious coparenting does not mean chummy ex-spouse hangouts!
Keep in mind what is practical. Don’t let ego drive the train. Incorporate all parents reasonably into the lives of your children – for the children’s benefit. That needs to be the barometer: what is best for the children? That should be the only compass dictating actions, behaviors and words.
Blending families can work. For every train wreck of a blended family that I’ve seen, I’ve also seen smooth blending as families merge and create expanded circles of support and love. These families often refer to the blending as a “bonus” not a “step.” Word choice can matter. Referring to your partner’s child as a “bonus daughter/son” rather than a “step” carries a completely different energy –and with time, maybe you will be the “bonus” parent, too!
It all comes down to weathering change, embracing it, and not being afraid of a new definition of family. Being open to what lies ahead, welcoming well-intentioned people into your family and wishing well for everyone you love – it’s not easy to do when bitterness and resentment remain post-divorce, so resolving your own feelings, and having honest conversations with a new partner, are key to moving past old hurts and moving forward into a better tomorrow.