Question: We’ve recently become a blended family. As a new stepparent, what can I do to make the transition as smooth as possible for everyone concerned?
We have a number of suggestions for you, but taken together they add up to one simple piece of advice: Be patient. The task of building a successful blended family is complicated and fraught with difficulty. Even under the most ideal circumstances it takes time – lots of it. Here are some thoughts on what this might mean and how the details might play out in practical terms.
Set realistic goals
In the first place, it’s crucial to have realistic goals. Don’t expect to become the Brady Bunch overnight. Instead, keep the lines of communication open and discuss your hopes and dreams together with the understanding that everyone in the family needs to stay flexible. Blending is possible, but it’s not automatic and it can’t be forced. It has to arise out of the slow process of forging genuine, honest relationships with one another.
Change sometimes requires a grieving process
You also need to allow sufficient time for grieving. A new marriage is always full of hope and promise, but in your case the joy is necessarily muted by the memory of what’s been left behind. The kids in particular should have permission to mourn the break-up of their original family and the loss of everything that went along with it – house, neighbourhood, friends, school, etc. This could take up to a year or more in some cases.
Cultivate emotional awareness
As you work your way through these delicate issues, stay aware of your own emotions. Parents who are too "outwardly focused" can overlook personal thoughts, fears, or perceptions that may hold a key to effective blending. Be sensitive to internal variables. But don’t be too sensitive. Avoid the forced use of titles like "Mum" or "Dad." Don’t take it personally if a stepchild isn’t comfortable calling you by such names in the beginning. If it happens at all, it will have to happen gradually. If it doesn’t, be willing to negotiate an alternative together.
Give affection equally
In everything you do, take special measures to give lots of affection to everyone in your new family. That means spending time alone with your spouse, working on your "couple" relationship, and making marital intimacy a priority. Meanwhile, if you’ve both brought children into the marriage, be sure to devote plenty of attention to your own kids so they don’t feel abandoned in your attempt to bond with your new stepchildren. When you show affection to your stepteens, don’t try to "prove yourself" to them, and don’t make them feel as if they have to "earn" your love. Overall, be genuine and create an environment of respect where everyone can share their feelings openly and honestly.
Build a new history – together
Finally, make an intentional effort to begin building a history together. Part of what makes a family feel like a family are common experiences and shared memories. So start looking for ways to build a sense of "us" and "we" among the members of your household. Plan trips. Play games. Establish holiday traditions. Take lots of pictures. Don’t try to erase memories of the "old" family; simply work hard to build a new one together.