In our previous blog we began talking about some ways to start out on the right foot if you re-marry and bring two families together. Those initial tips were: Make Your Marriage a Priority, Be Sensitive to Your Child’s Feelings, Develop Realistic Expectations and Be Supportive of Your Child’s Other Biological Parent. Those tips focus on ways to deal with the adjustment you and your children will go through with the life-changing step of blending them into a new family structure. Today we will share some ways to help your new family grow stronger and become closer.
Develop strong listening and communication skills
Effective communication and listening skills are vital to the success of any relationship. The true test of your skills comes when you are emotionally charged. It’s easy to say the right things when you feel happy, but throw in a little anger, a dash of jealousy and a pinch of disappointment and you have the ingredients for communication breakdown – and a family break-up.
Practice respectful communication when talking about non-threatening subjects around the dinner table and give positive feedback whenever they are used. When a person feels they have been heard and respected they are much more apt to exercise patience, acceptance and cooperation.
Establish clearly defined rules for discipline
No matter what type of family constellation you are in, it’s always important for parents to clearly define and consistently follow through with rules for discipline. It is tempting for stepparents to be too lenient with their new stepchildren in hopes of winning their acceptance and approval. This approach never works. All children need and expect to have boundaries in place, and consistent discipline is one of the most effective and powerful ways of communicating love and respect. But I urge caution. Stepparents should move slowly into disciplining children. Initially, the biological parent should be the primary disciplinarian, especially if the child is over twelve years old. As trust and respect build between a stepparent and stepchild more involvement can take place.
Regardless of the age of your children, both parents must be involved in establishing the rules for discipline. Likewise, parents must always present a unified front when enforcing the rules. Children are very smart and will figure out how to play their parents against one another. Parents who don’t allow their unity to be broken are much more likely to gain respect and obedience from their children.
Establish new family traditions and rituals
Every family develops its own culture. Establishing traditions and rituals for your new family will provide a greater sense of belonging for everyone involved, so be sure to give your kids a voice in how your new family will operate. Holidays are an especially important time for creating new traditions because they can help keep the focus on the present and develop positive anticipation for the future.
As important as it is to develop new rituals and traditions, it is equally important to respect and honor those that have already been established in your child’s life, even if they don’t include you. If your child has always visited their grandparents for a week during the summer or spent Christmas Eve with their non-custodial parent it is wise to allow for those traditions to continue.
Develop a spiritual foundation
The ultimate key to every family’s success, no matter what the circumstances might be, is choosing to identify and live out spiritual values and morals. To be the kind of parent or spouse you want to be will require wisdom, patience and love and the best source of all these things is our Creator. When the family is unified in a tradition of faith, bonds are often established sooner and more securely.
In working with families in the past, I always remember reading a letter written by a fifteen-year-old girl to her stepmother. The letter serves as a great reminder that it is possible for couples to successfully blend their families together without mixing them up! The names are changed so we can share the letter with you.
I want to thank you for everything you do. I’m sure that my gratitude is sometimes not expressed. I often think about how lucky I am to have a great stepmom like you.
You are not only a parental figure to me, but more importantly, a friend. You always listen, always smile and you are hard to be sad around since you always laugh!
You are like the missing piece to the puzzle inside our whole family’s heart. You have brought us closer together and allowed us to put the past behind us and bury the hatchet. Last, but not least, you have made my dad happier than he has been in a long time.
If you are currently in the process of blending your family, be encouraged that all your hard work, patience and commitment will pay off if you exercise the principles we’ve shared.
If you missed Part I of Blending Them in Without Mixing Them Up click here to read.
Live, Work and Relate Well!