Blended families are like minefields. There are places to step that go boom. That’s because blended families add special complications to the already difficult jobs of marriage and parenting. That doesn’t make the blended family bad at all. Blending can be an amazing lifeline rescuing families from past tragedies.
Parents in blended homes are wise to avoid these five mis-steps:
* Parents can be overzealous to make all children “get along.”
As much as you love a new mate and love your mate’s children, you can’t command the same feelings in your kids. Your kids’ attitudes take time to build, and pressuring them can actually result in the opposite of what you hope for.
* Parents immediately start disciplining each other’s kids.
While I agree that children should respect a step-parent as much as the birth parent, coming on too strong too soon does not take into account the natural difficulty facing the child. Whether we like it or not, a child’s emotions come into play, and easing into the role of discipliner allows those emotions time to play out.
When possible the step-parent should let the birth parent take the lead. You might even explain to the child that a step-parent may have to discipline in situations that can’t wait, like when a child is endangering himself or another. Preparing for this situation can help. Neither parent should ever discipline in anger. This adds fuel to the emotional fire in a child’s heart.
* Parents underestimate the stress children feel in switching houses.
Once upon a time, I liked to travel weekly for work. The newness was fun. Not anymore. A child forced to move from one home to another on a weekly or monthly basis bears a tremendous burden. Rules change, family dynamics change, diets change, routines change, and each move is a reminder of something the child didn’t want in the first place.
As much as possible, let your child share their feelings about the arrangement, and ask them if there are ways you can make the moves more tolerable. Talk to them about any change the night before. Remain upbeat because your attitude helps determine theirs. Watch your body language.
* Parents raise embarrassing subjects in front of new siblings/parents
Just because you are intimate with a new mate doesn’t mean your child is ready for his secrets to be made public. Be considerate about when and where topics are to be discussed. It’s one thing that a real sibling knows of your night-time fears, but letting that information out to a new step-sibling makes a child very vulnerable. Think how you feel when your weakness is made public.
* Parents talk about the “ex” disparagingly in front of others.
Whenever anyone tells me something negative about another person, I immediately wonder if they will tell others something negative about me. This is the logic of gossip. Your mother’s advice is probably applicable: “If you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything at all.”
Parents hurt by an ‘ex’ often deal with that by unintentionally making a child into a counselor. This upsets the child and gives them a burden they were never meant to carry. Don’t do this. Find a pastor, mature friend, or professional counselor to vent with.
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