Marrying someone who already has children is an experience that can be equal parts challenging and rewarding. If you’re having trouble relating — or just want to make sure you’re doing things right from the beginning — here are five ways to find your place in your blended family.
Present a united front.
Even though you may not be the biological parent of a child, you are their parent’s spouse, and the two of you are going to need to be on the same page. You will probably have some disagreements about what the kids can do and say, just like regular parents. But expressing that in front of the kids just gives them an opening to create division. A better idea is to have regular meetings with your spouse with a goal to hash out issues and figure out how you’re going to handle them together.
Stay out of the coparent dynamic.
When it comes to how your partner and their ex relate to each other, it’s important to remember they aren’t together for a reason. Coparenting relationships can be tricky to navigate and range from true friends to strict civility. Taking advantage of helpful tools like 2houses, which helps coparents keep track of schedules, messages, and important information can help. However, disagreements are still going to come up, and it’s important for you to stay out of them. Treat your spouse’s ex like a neighbor your want to stay on good terms with. Keep any comments or suggestions you have for how to handle things for private conversations between you and your spouse.
Keep negative thoughts to yourself.
Even in the best of step-parent/bio-parent relationships, there are going to be things you don’t like about your spouse’s ex or how they parent. Actual safety issues should be discussed privately with your spouse. Everything else is best kept to yourself. Saying something negative about the children’s other parent can make it impossible to develop a good relationship with your step-kids and can destroy any headway you’ve already made.
Engage on the child’s level.
One of the best ways to find your place as a step-parent in a blended family is to meet the child where they are. This is going to look different depending on the child’s age and interests, but here are a few examples:
- Your step-daughter is obsessed with horses. Offer to go for a joint lesson or a trail ride at a local stable.
- Your step-son lives and breathes soccer. Make a point to attend all the games even if it’s just to be part of the cheering section.
- Your have a step-daughter who is a toddler. Take her to the park, cook a favorite meal, or even just sit and watch that movie she loves for the millionth time.
- Your step-child is an adult. Engage them as you would any other adult you would want to get to know. Ask them questions about their interests to try to find some common ground. Even if you’re not going to be best friends, you can always be friendly and welcoming.
Remember that integrating a blended family takes time.
Some experts believe that truly merging a blending family can take up to 10 years, so breathe and let go of unrealistic expectations. You’re not going to go from married to your step-child introducing you as “my other mom” in a year, or even three. However, with some time, patience, and sincere, non-pressuring effort, you can slowly grow and deepen your relationship with your step-kids and find your place in the process.