Blended family is really home

Building a blended family takes time, patience, understanding, information, and it takes a plan. Know what you want for your blended family, understand the challenges and pitfalls inherent to step family life, and identify how you can best achieve your blended family goals. Quite apart from specific issues which make building a blended family especially challenging for parents, such as establishing positive connections between step parents and step kids, there are some other important factors which also apply.

A nurturing and accepting environment in your blended family

People need acceptance, and your blended family home is the best and safest place for your kids to find it. Let your home be a place of unconditional love for everyone in your extended step family. Set aside at least an hour every day to spend with your blended family members. Take special care to set aside one-on-one time with bio kids at least once a week, to be sure your connection does not get lost in the mix. Make sure you recognize and show support for the individual talents and interests of each family member. Praise effort as well as accomplishments; encourage creativity; celebrate differences. Work on your marital relationship so that your kids and step kids can learn how loving people deal with one another. Within your blended family, model conflict resolution; speak with considerate and kind words; deal immediately and effectively with disrespectful or abusive behavior, and keep arguments between you and your blended family partner fair and private. Build a safe haven for children to grow in.

Promote predictability and stability inside the step family

Children thrive on patterns and stability; life can be very unsettling for kids whose days are chaotic, especially for those who have endured divorce and separation. Create typical schedules for each day and a predictable pace for the year. Specific mealtimes; household rules; regular bed times; family game night; and specific chores all help to keep your blended family organized and feeling more secure. Be systematic throughout the year, as well. Have an annual yard clean-up party; plant and tend a vegetable garden; engage the entire family in spring cleaning; when it snows, build a snow family; have cookouts or picnics on a regular basis. Looking forward to and planning an annual blended family camping trip fosters a feeling of belonging and family fun.

Establish meaningful rituals and traditions

Rituals are comforting to all of us; the first cup of coffee in the morning; flowers at the dinner table on special days; bedtime rituals of a bath and then story time. What right-of-passage rituals does your family celebrate? Many opportunities are ripe for caring and creative tradition-making. Get your kids actively involved in plans and preparations for birthdays, mother’s day and father’s day. During the Holidays, cook special foods together; play the same music every year; make it a family activity to decorate the house or trim the tree; read or tell a story. You will be thrilled the first time one of your step kids asks, Will We Be Doing That Again This Year? These are things that build a blended family.

Active and effective communication

Practice the art of active listening. Meaningful dialogue between parents and kids, between step parents and step kids, only happens when mouths and ears work in unison. Create opportunities for talk, such as at family meal time or game night. When your kids want to tell you something, stop what you are doing and listen. Really listen, without interrupting, without jumping in with questions or corrections; nod, or otherwise signal you are listening. Restate what you heard, and ask appropriate and non-critical questions or make appropriately supportive comments. Mutual respect is the cornerstone of effective communication. Share your thoughts on religion, politics, and ethics.  The purpose of sharing your personal views is not to preach; the purpose of sharing your thoughts is to model self-expression and to teach self-confidence.

Plan how to manage crisis

In a blended family, it is not a matter of whether a crisis will arise, but a matter of when. Being prepared helps. Not by knowing how you will solve every problem, but by knowing how you want to act as a parent, as a spouse, as a member of your blended family, when a crisis does occur. Work the problem, not the actor. Kids mess up. If they are in danger, remove the danger, or remove them from the danger. Attacking a child for misbehavior or criticizing them for poor judgment only serves to make them hide problems from you in the future. Close ranks as a family when someone is in crisis. The unconditional love and support from their blended family should always be a shining light for someone in crisis.

Give your blended family members a really good reason to come home.  If you are still having problems, visit The Blended and Step Family Resource Center for more information and assistance.