Children in a blended family, or in two blended families, can sometimes feel like outsiders in one or both of their step family homes. As parents and step parents, we can help them and their step siblings feel welcome and included, and know they are an important part of each blended family. The manner in which visitation is handled can make a difference.

Understanding the difficulty

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Blended family living is not easy for children. They often dislike having to move from place to place. Their things are always at the other house. They may have step siblings in both places that see them as intruders. They may feel shy around step parents. They can feel like a visitor in one or both places, at times. Here are steps you can take to help your children transition between the houses

It is all about the kids when talking to your ex-spouse

A congenial visitation arrangement is what is best for your kids, and agreeable dealings with your ex spouse is an important part of what is best. Keep visitation as regularly scheduled as possible, taking into account upcoming events and special occasions. Ex-spouses need to talk directly about changes in scheduling, and work cooperatively for the benefit of the kids.

Make sure each child has his or her own space.

Kids need a place in each home where they can leave things and know they will be there when they go back; they need a place they can call their own. A private room or anything elaborate is not necessary, but a place to go for quiet time can be helpful to someone who has to share sleeping space with a step sibling who is still a relative stranger. Get creative if space is at a premium. Also, make provisions for out of the house activities on a regular basis.

Be encouraging and understanding.

It may take time for kids to adjust to life in different step family households. As a step parent, make sure all your children know each is an indispensable part of your blended family. Talk with your kids and find out how blended family living is working out for them. Talk with, rather than talk to. And listen. Let your kids know you want them to see their other parents, and encourage then to spend time at the other parent’s house.

Number one rule of co-parenting

In order for co-parenting to be successful and your children to benefit, you must follow the number one rule of divorce: Do not speak negatively about the other parent, especially in front of the children. Children faced with such a dilemma always feel they have to take sides, and invariably suffer from either side. Children get really confused and angry when one minute you say bad things about your ex, and then in your next breath you want them to go for the weekend!

Communicate with your ex-spouse about co-parenting

While co-parenting is really the only thing you and your ex need to talk about, it is important to actually talk about it. Ask your ex to follow suit about not saying negative things about them, and agree that neither will ask the children to convey messages. This practice gives the impression you cannot talk with each other, even about them. Be involved with school and social events, and remain active in their lives. If children know their divorced parents can still be good parents, their lives seem more normal and secure.

Be actively involved

When kids and step kids arrive at your step family home for visitation, get involved. Children can feel left out, or even in the way, if you are constantly working on projects that take all your attention. Talk, engage, be an active listener, and give them the attention they deserve. You do not have to plan elaborate activities, just be there for them in a welcoming and caring way. Do things as a blended family on a regular basis, such as family game night or group meal preparations. Laugh. Talk. Joke. Make blended family time a time to grow together, to feel like everyone belongs.