I am getting remarried. What is the best way to blend our families?
When you and your new partner are ready for a more committed relationship, discuss these plans with your children to prepare them for the changes that are about to take place. If you are planning to get married, your youngsters will want to be part of any celebration. The wedding ceremony itself is generally a positive experience for children, one in which they should be given a special role. The more that children feel a part of the process of becoming a stepfamily, the better things will go for all concerned.
Next, a new household will be established, and the blended family will learn to live together. This is a period of establishing who you are, what you are willing to share and what each individual's role in the new household will be. This process takes some time, conscious effort on the part of all family members, especially the parents, and occasionally some outside help. From the child's perspective, the new stepparent is a "guest in the house." The stepparent needs to develop his relationship with the child gradually and independently from his relationship with the mother.
New Family Arrangements
Once the transition period is over, people settle into routines much as any other family does. Later, there may be changes and transitions that can force adaptations in family life - for example, if the remarried couple has a new baby of their own, or an older child leaves for college.
As the children themselves adapt to the new family arrangement, some will do better than others. Sometimes, the fit between stepchild and stepparent is a good one. However, there are many opportunities for problems to arise. Perhaps the child is jealous of the new man in his mother's life. Or he may resent the intrusion of stepsiblings into his home. Sometimes members of the blended family have minimal tolerance for their differences, creating dissatisfaction and tension that can undermine the family's equilibrium.
In most blended families, children challenge their stepparents from time to time. Some youngsters may become openly aggressive; others may keep an emotional distance from their stepmother or stepfather. If this happens in your family, don't take it personally; it is the child's way of testing you and perhaps dealing with his own feelings over having a new adult in his life.
Your Responses Matter
If your stepchild criticizes you, don't overreact; this will become less common as the months pass. In general, the older the child, the more critical and judgmental he is likely to be of you as a stepparent. While letting him express his feelings, you can be comforted by the fact that, if you are fair and making a sincere effort to get along, the negative feelings will eventually be outweighed by more positive ones. It is a sign of progress and a developing relationship that he feels comfortable enough with you to voice his feelings.
To build some bridges, find some interests that you and your stepchildren share, and invite them to join you in these activities. You might hold regular family meetings to pull together on some issues and to iron out differences. Above all, treat your stepchildren with respect, and you will ultimately win their trust.
Sometimes the difficulty children have within stepfamilies is really a continuation of their anguish over their parents' divorce. Children's responses to the divorce of their parents can take many forms - and those feelings are not easily or quickly resolved. They may linger and then disappear, only to resurface in times of stress, especially the stress present when relationships, like stepfamilies, are formed or broken.
The Success of Stepfamilies
The success of stepfamilies depends on a number of factors, but especially the quality of the new marriage. If the new spouses begin having difficulties with their own relationship, that will affect nearly every aspect of family life, including how the children fare.
If you are starting to have difficulties with your spouse, get some counseling to try to smooth out problems before they become serious ones. Also, in most communities, support groups are available to help remarried couples and their children deal with the various issues that can arise in stepfamilies.