Let’s be honest; families are complex. Every family has its own set of unique strengths and weaknesses which bind them together. In a perfect world, everyone in the family is on the same page – rules are clear, and everyone understands what is acceptable and what isn’t. That covers everything from communication to behavior. 

Without even realizing it, as families, we have a certain way of doing things, from cooking and cleaning to celebrating special occasions. The way our families work has become natural and normal for each of us; whether conscious or not, we fall into some form of routine – even though there is always that one person who takes too long to shower and another who forgets to put the toothpaste lid back on.

We all understand each other on a deeper level. Each family member knows what causes positive and negative reactions, we know which buttons we shouldn’t push, we know what makes each other happy, and we definitely tend to know what irritates each other. And then there are naturally those moments of jealousy and sibling rivalry, but we’re a family at the end of the day. Our family unit provides all of us, especially our children, with a sense of security.

It’s tough being a parent at the best of times, even under “normal” circumstances but add a step-parent and step-brothers or sisters into the mix, and everything gets turned upside down. Blended families come with their own set of unique challenges, and unless we establish ground rules right from the start, we are going to find ourselves tested on every level. Establishing a new family framework

Whenever we establish a new framework or lay down a new foundation, there will always be challenges. But there are some basic things we can implement to prevent unnecessary issues. Family therapy is also a good option to get everyone on track. Here are our 7 top tips for preventing problems in our blended families.

Parenting – it’s not just the two of us anymore

A blended family does not just mean us, our new partner, and a combination of our children and step-children. It also includes our previous partners. This can be tough for any family, but for things to truly work, we all need to work together. (And it will probably require a lot of patience and grace.) 

The key here, as it is in most situations, is communication. Right from the start, we need to agree on how we communicate; it is always best not to communicate through our children as they have enough to deal with already. And it is imperative that we never say negative things about each other in front of our children.

Simple ground rules need to be established and each family will have its own nuances. But it is important to agree on how we will communicate, especially when it comes to things we are not happy about. Discipline is another aspect that should be agreed upon right in the beginning. 

New family rules

As parents, we need to be on the same page before we can begin engaging with our children. If we don’t come across as a united front, our children will immediately know how to manipulate certain situations to their advantage, especially if they are not happy with the new arrangement.

As parents, we need to define our household rules and it is highly recommended that we don’t come up with a long list. Initially, it is best to identify a few critical rules that everyone can remember and that can be easily implemented. 

Involving our children

Depending on how old our children are, we can include them in helping us to define how we would like our family to work together – we tend to forget how insightful our children can actually be.

We need to come up with ways of combining both families’ ways of doing things, as well as creating new ones. This can be fun to discuss with our children by asking them questions like what they think previously worked well and what new things can be introduced. This is also the ideal time to come up with a new family tradition.

Forming bonds with our step-children

One of the most important things to remember is that we are not our step-child’s mother or father. They may eventually start seeing us in a similar light but we will never replace their biological parents.

We need to ensure that we are mindful that we treat all the children in the house in exactly the same way. Our children will especially be looking out for signs of favoritism or inconsistencies as to how we deal with each of them.

Forming a bond with our step-child will take time, and we need to let it happen naturally. The best way of doing this is to always be available and inclusive and spend time listening. We will find out far more about our step-child’s likes, dislikes, and interests by listening rather than by trying to force a relationship.

And finally, remember you are a step-parent, not their friend!

Dealing with sibling conflict

We often make the mistake of expecting and wanting our children and step-children to form these close bonds and live in complete harmony – that doesn’t happen under normal circumstances. There are going to be moments of conflict and jealousy. 

These moments are always challenging as we can’t be seen to take our child’s side consistently. But at the same time, if our child is not at fault, we need to be able to acknowledge that. This is where it goes back to having established clear ground rules in terms of how you will resolve conflict, what the consequences are to certain behaviors and how we as parents will discipline our children.

Marital conflict 

There are going to be times when as spouses we have moments of conflict. A blended family is no different in this regard and we should always try to discuss these moments in private as we always want to be seen as a united front. 

There will also be situations where our spouse makes a decision in front of the children that we don’t agree with. When this happens, our best option is to breathe and wait for an opportunity when we are alone to voice our opinion.

Give it time

Remember, this is new for everyone; each family member needs time and space to adjust. We will all be tested on some level, but if we deal with each other with love, grace, compassion, and empathy, we will manage to become a successfully blended family unit. 

We didn’t (or shouldn’t have) expect perfection from our previous family unit, so there is no need to expect it now, and there definitely shouldn’t be pressure to create the perfect blended family.

Jousline Savra is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Roswell, GA and provides family therapy for parents and adult children. As a family therapist, she has extensive experience helping families with difficult issues who need to find solutions in order to have healthier ways of relating to each other and communicating well. Give her a call today to help sort out family issues, and get everyone back into harmony.