Tips for Blended Families

One in four families is a step-family, and 40% of Americans have at least one step-relative in their lives. In a blended family, balancing the complex needs and wants of kids, parents and step-family members — not to mention exes and various grandparents — can be a challenge, especially in the beginning.

The good news? According to the Pew Research Center, most people with step-relatives say they are happy with their family situation. Here are some ideas for helping your blended family become strong:

Lower expectations. Bringing new people into a family is a huge adjustment for everyone. Understanding that it is a process — which has its ups and downs — can help. Set expectations low and recognize the times when things go well, which can help set a positive course for relationships.

Go slow. Getting to know each other takes time and children may be clingy or misbehave when new people enter the family. Spend special time together and create ways for “steps” to spend one-on-one time to get to know each other. Let children take the lead with activities, such as choosing a movie to watch or picking something to cook together for the family. Avoid large group activities where children may try to compete for attention.

Allow choices. In general, children may feel more in control, have less anxiety, and behave better when they feel they have choices as the family changes. For example, if your blended family is moving in together, ask children for input on decorating their rooms. Make sure each child has a small, special space — even a corner with a shelf — that is all their own.

Cultivate positivity about exes and other “steps.” Studies show that a constructive relationship between co-parents helps children’s mental and emotional well-being throughout life. Making children your priority in decisions, working to have calm interactions, and speaking about other parents respectfully will help your child feel safe.

Discuss discipline. Discipline styles vary from person to person. It is important to discuss ways of correcting behavior, and acknowledge differences with your spouse. If you disagree at times, a good rule to follow is that decisions on discipline are up to the biological parent.

Take time for yourself and your significant other. Blending families can be stressful and having time together as a couple is important. If it is hard to ever get out for a date, consider having a “date night” at home with a special dinner, and perhaps a movie — or just spend time together after the children go to bed.

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