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7 Tips for Creating a Strong Blended Family

Today, stepfamilies are commonly referred to as 'blended families'. In the U.S., approximately one out of every 3 children will be a part of a blended family by the age of 18. Obviously, it can take time for the bonds to develop within a blended family, and when two people who both have children of their own marry to form a blended family, the road at first can be quite rocky. Some children may be hesitant and resist change, and parents can quickly become frustrated with the issues that arise in the beginning. Stepparents, take heart! It is normal for there to be a (sometimes) lengthy adjustment period when there is a major change to a family structure.

With that in mind, here are some tips to help transition and create a strong, bonded blended family:

  1. Establish clear boundaries. Sometimes they are called house rules, but I prefer to call them boundaries. Anyway, the key is to make sure the boundaries are clear up front, and consider letting the children have input regarding those boundaries. After all, if they help create the boundaries, you are less likely to have issues enforcing them!
  2. Communicate regularly.Take time to check in with each of the kids regularly. Find out how they're feeling, and demonstrate empathy and understanding. Open and frequent communication limits misunderstandings, and provides lots of opportunities for connecting.
  3. Insist on respect.There may be a time in the beginning when the kids don't like each other or you as a stepparent, but regardless, insisting that family members treat each other respectfully can go a long way when tensions arise. It probably goes without saying that it's important for you as a parent/stepparent to role model respectful behavior, not only within your blended family but with your ex and your spouse's ex as well.
  4. Have low expectations. Sometimes, low expectations can be a good thing. Don't expect a model, Leave it to Beaver family the first few weeks. New family bonds take time to develop, and you will likely invest a lot of love, time and energy into your new blended family, without seeing immediate results. Don't get discouraged, stay focused and think of it as a long-term investment that will yield good results farther down the road.
  5. Act as a guide/friend.If you are the stepparent, don't try to be a disciplinarian right away. Leave that to the biological parent, at least initially. You will want to establish a strong bond of respect and trust before taking on a disciplinarian role with your stepchild.
  6. Keep communication positive.Be sure to choose your words carefully, and don't use unkind words. Use only positive affirmations and communication. For example, instead of saying "Don't play ball in the house", say "Please play with the ball outside". Also, focus on the positive aspects of each child's personality instead of the negative. Building up your stepchild's self-esteem helps them feel secure and safe within the new family structure.
  7. Plan family activities.It's important to set aside time when you are all together for activities the whole family can participate in. Your goal should be to make the time fun, but also reflective of everyday life. Games, sports, and other such activities are good options. Options like amusement parks can be fun, but aren't reflective of everyday life, and won't be as helpful in creating that strong blended family bond.

As stepparents, your job is to support your children, communicate openly, and provide a safe environment and time for them to adjust to the new blended family. Given time, most children will adjust and you will be on your way to a strong, bonded blended family!

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