Most people grew up watching reruns of the hit family show “The Brady Bunch.” But, did you ever wonder whether it was really possible to balance a successful stepfamily? In the show, the mother and her three daughters live happily (and often hilariously) with the stepfather and his three sons. Is that possible in real life? Can a blended family work as successfully in comparison to the traditional nuclear family?
The short answer is yes. The long answer is that it is going to take effort from both stepparents to make their blended family work. If you find yourself getting ready to take the plunge into remarriage, make sure you know the ways you can prevent problems in your new stepfamily.
Are Successful Blended Families Common?
According to statistics, 1300 stepfamilies form each day. This can take the form of a divorced parent remarrying, a single parent living with another adult who takes on the role of a stepparent, or a single/divorced adoptive parent cohabitating with a new partner and their children. Since 50% of U.S. families remarry, the likelihood of a blended family is high.
When we think about a blended family, we picture a single/divorced mother marrying/remarrying a single/divorced father with both people bringing their children into the family. The children can either live with the couple full-time or only for weekend visits, but they are still part of the newly formed family.
The issue, according to statistics, is that the more remarriages that occur, the higher the divorce rate. 67% of second marriages end in divorce, while a whopping 73% of third marriages end in divorce.
Children stuck in this vicious cycle may begin to have problems as they are not sure what family support they have in their corner. It is difficult to ask a child to trust and love a stepparent and new siblings, and then end the marriage a few years later (and quite possibly introduce a new stepparent).
So, what can you do as a parent in this situation? Your new family doesn’t have to have a dreary outlook. There are things you can do to circumvent issues that may come up as you navigate this new role.
10 Ways to Prevent Problems in a Blended Family
There are things you (and your future spouse) can do to help make the transition into a blended family easier.
1. Don’t assume you know everything about marriage and parenting.
Although you may have been married before, creating a blended family is an entirely different type of family dynamic. You can’t assume that you will have the answers to every family problem that arises. However, you can find others in a similar circumstance that are navigating their stepfamily successfully and ask for advice.
2. Prioritize your marriage.
Your marriage needs to come first, so make sure you take time out for the two of you. A blended family will only work if the marriage continues to strengthen. Plus, the love you demonstrate towards each other acts as a future relationship goal for your children.
3. Make sure you and your future spouse are on the same page about parenting.
Discuss how you plan to raise the children, including discipline. Many experts recommend that each parent disciplines their own child, but you need to stay consistent.
If you have already created a plan, the two of you can discipline as a team. You never want to undermine your spouse or confuse the child. Stepchildren can become resentful towards an adult who is not their biological parent when they try to discipline them.
4. Get to know your new stepchildren and work to form emotional bonds.
Not only should you include your stepchildren on special occasions, but also in your daily life. Listen to what they have to say about their life, school, friends, and anything else that is important to them. They need to know that you are a safe person they can turn to when needed.
5. Create weekly routines or new traditions.
Healthy families maintain routines and traditions, and as a new blended family, you can do the same. Weekly dinners after church, Friday family movie nights, or Tuesday board game nights all count towards fun routines. Holidays may be a little trickier if you and an ex-spouse take turns covering the special occasion, but you can still create new traditions. Think along the lines of silly pajamas and pictures at Christmas or Easter egg hunts for everyone.
6. Allow individuality, but don’t label your children and stepchildren.
Just as your children are unique, so are your stepchildren. Avoid referring to them with labels. For example, if your stepson has ADHD or another condition, there is no reason for you to point that out and make him feel bad or somehow “less than” his new siblings. The same thing goes for gifted students. Praise their achievement, but never use it to create sibling rivalry. That is probably not your goal, but children may see it differently.
7. When it comes to the former spouses, try to form partnerships.
The marriage or relationship ended, but you still must work together in a partnership for the children and their best interests. One of the biggest issues in a blended family is the trouble with the ex-spouses. You certainly don’t have to be best friends with your ex and his new wife, but you do need to come to an agreement on how both sets of parents plan to parent the same children.
8. Be open about communication.
Let your children and stepchildren know that if they are having problems in the new family dynamic to tell you. Always be open to communication and suggest ways to problem solve. By listening to their concerns, you will show that you do want a relationship with them. By the same token, if you are having trouble assimilating to the new family, be upfront with your spouse. Explain to them why you feel the way you do.
The answer may simply be a talk with one of the children, or your spouse assuming a responsibility like carpooling so you don’t feel so overwhelmed. Remember that your family cannot read your mind. Speak up and let the children do the same.
9. Consider Christian family counseling.
A faith-based counselor can help your family transition into a blended family a little more smoothly. The therapist can teach the children how to empathize with one another and resolve differences. Together as a family, you can alleviate any fears the children have about the new family dissolving at some point by showing them that you and your spouse rely on God.
10. Give yourself grace.
No one is perfect. You are going to mess up at times. Your daughter might say something mean to your stepdaughter. Your stepson might yell at you after he loses a basketball game. You might lose your mind on the whole family one night because no one is listening to you. Give yourself some grace. It’s going to happen. If your family knows that you are there for them and you love them, it will work out for your good.
If you are already in a blended family situation and it is not going the way you’d envisioned, it’s not too late. Christian family counseling can open lines of communication between you, your spouse, your children, and your stepchildren. It can help resolve differences and teach the children conflict resolution.
Maintaining a blended family is not for the faint of heart, but God placed you here with this family for a reason. You have a chance to make a lasting impact and leave a legacy for your new family that will one day include a generation of grandchildren. Be the role model for this future generation and show them that love and family are more than blood.
Whether your blended family is large or small, it is your family. God has blessed you with people to share your life and a new beginning. Embrace this new challenge.
“Family at the Beach”, Courtesy of Patricia Prudente, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Kids by the Water”, Courtesy of John Schnobrich, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Family at Sunset”, Courtesy of Jude Beck, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Family”, Courtesy of Rajesh Rajput, Unsplash.com, CC0 License
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