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By Mary Ellen Flynn

Attorney at Law

Families with step-parents, also known as “blended families” is the norm for many of today’s families. They say it takes a village to raise a child, and the more loving and caring role models that a child can have, the better. But it is common for there to be many hurdles, frustrations, and long talks before becoming a successful blended family. The more difficult, long, and bitter separation and divorce was, the longer it takes longer for a step-parent and siblings to be accepted and blended into the family. No matter how frustrating or difficult it may seem, there are a few guidelines I recommend to help ensure success:

  • Most importantly, have patience. Blending families takes time. Each person involved can and will be at a different place. Toddlers, school-aged children, teenagers, young adults, and step-parent(s) will all experience frustrations, feelings, and new issues that will take time to address and navigate. Each child can be at a different level of acceptance of step-parents and new siblings, especially if your separation and divorce were very adversarial. Often children will still be processing the divorce and their new homes and schedules, so be patient and allow them to work through their emotions.

One of the biggest hurdles I see blended families encounter is introducing new sign step-parents and siblings too soon after separation and divorce. When you do find love again, some parents are quick to want to expose and add your children to the newfound love they have discovered. But remember to be patient and take time to plan the introduction and transition of your new partner and any siblings to your children. I often recommend working with professionals, especially if a child is having difficulty, ensuring you are getting them the proper emotional support to support them during this transitional phase. Taking some time to allow your children to acclimate to the idea of a new step-parent can be time well spent for the future success of your blended family and the relationships having meaning.

Don’t forget that one of the most challenging roles in blended families is to be a step-parent. Step-parents are trying to develop a bond with the children, develop relationships with your entire family, dealing with a parent (and ex) that may not be very receptive of them in the beginning, all while balancing your new relationship. It is a complicated job for anyone to have. Ensure that you are consistently talking and communicating about the difficulties and frustrations your partner is having in taking on this new role. If your partner has never been a parent before, be understanding and patient as they learn. Remember that your partner will have to establish their relationship with your children and give time for everyone to get to know each other well and form a bond, which doesn’t typically happen overnight.

  • Talk about parenting expectations ahead of time. Discuss parenting styles, expectations for discipline, and reach a consistent and united front for your blended family on how you and your new spouse plan to parent can be critical to a successful marriage and the blending of your families. There is no one way to parent, and parenting can be difficult, especially when you don’t see eye to eye with your spouse. And with blended families, there are other parents, family members, court orders, and custody agreements to consider when blending your parenting styles. Have meaningful and sincere talks with your new partner to establish your expectations ahead of time before you encounter an issue. Most parents will have some differences in parenting styles when it comes to discipline, religion, teaching right from wrong, and you and your new spouse need to have these discussions. Failing to discuss and reconcile one another’s styles of parenting will lead to frustration and arguments because issues will arise. But having the ability to have ongoing and open conversations is necessary for successful co-parenting. Blended families face additional hurdles and complexities, so expect there to be bumps along the way.
  • Embrace differences and learn to enjoy new traditions. It is difficult enough for any set of parents to juggle school, daily extracurricular activities, and family schedules.  Blended families often have to deal with four or more sets of grandparents and extended family members and an arsenal of family and holiday traditions to consider on top of custody schedules and parenting agreements. The complications and complexities are endless and can cause your head to spin.  I always recommend establishing new family traditions based on your new blended family and don’t insist on holding onto your old traditions. Often, you will find that what worked with your children before doesn’t anymore only because your kids are older.  New family traditions should be encouraged and allow for step-parents and children to bond while setting new and fun things to do together as a family.
  • Keep communication lines open with all parents. Although you may have had a long or bitter separation or divorce, find a way to learn to get along and keep the communication lines open. It may take some time for everyone to accept the new dynamics of their family. Still, parents and step-parents need to be able to have respectful conversations about the children so they can effectively co-parent. Children caught in between parents and step-parents will struggle to adjust to their new families, schedules, and traditions if both of their parents can’t move forward and look past their separation and divorce. Negatively speaking about your ex or their new spouses will only negatively impact your relationship with your child, not your ex. Blending families means there is and will always be some work to do, but doing so can enrich the lives of your children and make it easier for them to be loved and feel secure.

Successfully blending families takes commitment on the part of everyone, and it doesn’t come naturally to everyone. Families are complex, and because blended families have their level of complexity, they require a new level of understanding and patience. Remember that blended families are families just like the rest. All families have obstacles and hurdles they face, and although mistakes will happen, continuing to work together will ensure success and a stable family unit.

About Andalman & Flynn, P.C.: Andalman & Flynn, P.C. serves clients throughout Maryland and the District of Columbia, offering compassionate, quality service and results-driven representation across a broad range of legal areas. With a concentration on disability benefits law and family law, the firm focuses on cases that impact the rights of everyone, and they are there for clients when responsive legal help is most critical. For more information about Andalman & Flynn, please visit http://www.andalmanflynn.com, or call 301.563.6685.