If you thought celebrity marriages were the only ones that didn't last, here's a news flash. Half of all marriages in the U.S. end in divorce, and within a few years, most divorced people with children marry again. This means that chances are, at one time or another, we’ll be part of a blended family. It’s not easy to combine families, especially if the adults involved don’t get along well, but blended families can be happy. Mine is! Here are my ten tips for a happy blended family…
1. Don’t Try Too Hard
Kids can tell when grown-ups are just plain trying too hard, and it’s guaranteed to put them off. Sure, it’s nice to make them feel special by preparing their favorite pancakes or letting them choose the movie, but don’t over-do it.
2. Be Yourself
You’ll be tempted to be the coolest step-parent ever, with the coolest job and best clothes and hottest car, but it’s better to just be yourself, and if you do in fact have the coolest job to impress them with, then that’s just a bonus.
3. Give Them All Space
You simply cannot expect children to start sharing a space without some confusion, hurt feelings, and territorialism, especially if those children are surly teenage girls. In the beginning, it’s a very good idea to try and make sure everyone has their own space. Even if the kids have to share rooms, they still need to have a space in that room that is just their own.
4. Stick to the Rules
If mom and dad have rules, then you need to be sure to stick to them. Don’t bend the rules in an effort to make the kids like you. This is a common mistake most parents make and they will catch on right away that you’re the “easy” parent, and will take advantage of that every chance they get! If bedtime is 9 o’clock and they have to load the dishwasher after dinner and they’re not allowed to watch “Zombieland” and they certainly can’t drink Mountain Dew, then stick to those rules. Also, never question those rules in front of the children!
5. Ask Questions
Not sure whether Susie likes chicken or Katie likes milk? Do the kids eat eggs for breakfast, or just grab Pop-Tarts on their way out the door? Instead of enforcing your own idea of a healthy breakfast, ask questions. Find out which child likes what, and try to remember. Make sure each child has something they enjoy, so one child doesn’t feel left out, while another brags about how she’s the favorite.
6. Make an Effort
While over-doing it isn’t going to get you anywhere, under-doing it is just as bad. Blending a family can be really difficult for children, and they need to see a little special effort to make them understand that it’s hard for everyone, but that everything will be okay. Maybe read your little ones an extra bed-time story from their favorite book, and give out extra hugs and kisses. That’s not a bad idea anyway, is it?
7. Lose the Attitude
There are sure to be a few hiccups along the way, but having a negative, put-out attitude won’t help. I know, I know, it’s hard to love someone else’s kids, but you don’t have to adore them, or even really like them. Just be the adult in the situation, and be pleasant and positive as you can be. That's the only way to become a better parent. If that snippy little teenage daughter of his gives you nasty attitude all weekend long, is it going to help for you to snap at her, or just leave her alone for the weekend? You know the answer…
8. Make All the Rules Apply to Everyone
If his children aren’t allowed to use curse words, talk back, or call each other names, then your children shouldn’t be able to do these things, either. If your children aren’t allowed to have sweets before dinner, watch horror movies or soda at all, then his shouldn’t either. Make sure all of the rules you have apply to everyone. Review the rules, and agree on the ones you’ll keep, and the ones that will have to go, so there’s an even playing field.
9. Praise Rather than Punish
The first year will be the most difficult, as everyone gets used to having each other around. For at least this long, try your best to praise even the small accomplishments, and try not to punish too much. Positive reinforcement is the best way to go in a blended family, so no-one’s feelings get hurt, and so no-one feels put upon.
10. Make a Commitment
Don’t go into a blended family situation thinking that if it gets hard you can always just leave. The children and your sweetie, need to see that you’re completely committed to making your new family work. If they see that you might plan to walk away, they’ll quit trying, and you’ll have a hurtful, ugly mess on your hands.
It’s not a cake-walk to blend a family, but it’s not impossible, either! Just follow these rules, and be patient, and before you know it you’ll have a family that’s so blended, no-one on the outside would ever guess you hadn’t been together for ages. It’s so worth it! What rules and tricks have you used to blend your family? What works, and what doesn’t? Please let me know!