Blended families are more widespread than ever, and come with unique challenges. Building a harmonious home may be difficult at first but it can be done. Life coach Thandi Vellem tells you how to best approach bringing your families together.
- Communication is key
There needs to be an existing relationship among all parties before blending families. Vellem advises against throwing children into such a set-up, and instead encourages talking to them before they live with you and your partner.
“Be cognisant of the fact that everything to do with children is always compounded, so it’s easy for them to feel unloved or compare themselves to the other siblings,” she says.
“Depending on the age, children don’t have the emotional capacity to properly dissect and understand that they are in fact loved, so parents need to make them understand what exactly is happening.”
Also, if the child isn’t emotionally ready, they may see your partner as a form of competition which could create bigger problems.
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- Ease the children into the new set-up
After introducing your child or children to your new partner, make sure they spend time together so the transition to living together is easier.
“Children magnify everything, so to be thrown into that space without a transition phase can be emotionally devastaing for the child,” she says.
- Ensure your partner accepts the child
Vellem maintains that it’s important to have a partner that accepts your child. “Sometimes people think they just need to accept the child and not the biological mother or father. In order for the relationship to work, the partner needs to also accept the co-parenting relationship that still needs to exist between you and your ex,” she says.
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- Make sure there are boundaries in place
It’s easy to create an insecure space if boundaries aren’t in place between the co-parents.
“Sometimes the people that walk into our lives, who we ultimately call step-parents, walk in knowing there’s a mess in terms of not being able to put boundaries in place or that we aren’t emotionally well, and that there’s still acrimony,” she says. “So they find themselves caught up in the bitterness, and the child falls through the cracks.”
- Create a family
Once the parenting house is in order, create a warm, loving home. Acknowledge the challenge that comes with a blended family but don’t separate the kids.
Vellem says she finds that parents tend to “measure” the kids, the thinking being: “This child I got in the marriage; this one I got out, which plays a part in how the child is treated,” she says.
Also remember, before your children join the new family, if they’re old enough they may have questions as to why they haven’t been with you all along. Vellem therefore advises counselling for the whole family.
“Be careful of feelings of unworthiness or ‘I don’t belong here’ from a stepchild. Because there are already family rituals in place, the child may feel out of place because they still need to learn them. It’s important for parents to focus their attention on incorporating the child into this new family,” she says.
It’s important that the other children are made aware of the child that is joining the family because they might “be protective of their space” Vellem says.
- Agree on the disciplining strategy
Disciplining the children is probably the most difficult part of blended families. What works for your kids, may not work for your stepchild. Establish ground rules with your partner.