Starting a blended family marks a big change in life. Not only do you go from being “single” to “married,” but you are also instantly “married with kids.” Besides taking on the role of “husband” or “wife,” one or both of you will also gain the new title of “stepparent.” It’s a tricky transition to navigate.
We’re here to help. Based on the experiences of other blended families at Watermark who have gone before you, and resources such as Ron Deal’s Smart Stepfamilies series, here are some tips on how to raise a healthy blended family together.
Understanding Your Situation
For starters, it helps to have proper expectations. Building a blended family takes time. It will likely take several years for everyone to fully adapt to their new roles. You won’t get it perfect right away, so give yourself (and everyone else) some grace.
Also, humbly approach your new role(s) with the understanding that you will have a lot to learn (Matthew 23:12). For some people, this will be obvious: if you’ve never been married and/or never been a parent before, then having an “instant family” will be a totally new experience. But even if you have been married previously, you’ve never been married to this person. You may already be a parent, but you’ve never been a stepparent, or had to navigate being a biological parent married to a stepparent. Your past experience does not make you an expert, so be willing to make changes and learn together what works for your new family.
What to Do When You’re the Biological Parent
If you are bringing your own kids into the marriage, you might think that nothing would change when it comes to your parenting role. After all, you’re their mother or father now, and you’ll still be their mother or father in the new blended family.
However, there are things that you can do to help your spouse and kids navigate the transition. Things such as:
- Proactively supporting your spouse’s new role as a stepparent. Communicate to your children the expectation that they will respect their stepparent and obey them the same as they would obey you. Your kids need to know that your spouse is one of their parents now and should be honored as such (Exodus 20:12).
- Making space for your spouse to contribute to parenting decisions and activities. For instance, you should both decide together what your new family’s rules should be. You should then communicate those rules to your children with your spouse standing in support.
- Helping your spouse build bonds with the children. Together, come up with ideas of fun activities that your spouse can do with your kids. It might be a trip to an amusement park, a concert, or going to the movies together. However, as the biological parent, first confirm with your children that they would like to do that activity with your spouse. You want the kids to have a positive experience and grow the relationship with their stepparent at a pace they are comfortable with.
- Handling most of the necessary correction and discipline for your own children, especially in the first months or years of your marriage. That way, your kids won’t see their stepparent as “the bad guy” or be tempted to doubt their authority.
- Continuing many of the traditions and touchpoints you developed with your kids prior to becoming a blended family—things like going to the park on Saturday mornings, weekly pizza nights, or bedtime questions about the favorite part of their day. This will reduce the amount of change your kids have to navigate and help reassure them that they have not been replaced by your new spouse.
What to Do When You’re the Stepparent
If you’re now a stepparent for your spouse’s children, there are ways you can ease into the role (and help your stepchildren slowly adjust to having you as a parent). Things like:
- Letting the children set their own pace for how their relationship with you will develop. Don’t push children toward showing affection that they don’t feel or require them to call you “Mom” or “Dad.”
- Taking a secondary role in disciplining your stepchildren at first. You can remind them of the family rules that you and your spouse agreed upon and communicated together, but let your spouse do most of the enforcement for a while. Note that this does not mean ignoring bad behavior or allowing children to break the rules in order to gain favor with them; you want to maintain consistency and support your spouse in how you parent together.
- Constantly looking for opportunities to connect and create bonds with your stepchildren (while still maintaining a long-term “Crockpot” perspective on the quality of the relationship).
- Graciously giving your spouse and stepchildren time to be together, when needed.
Of course, if both you and your spouse are bringing children into the marriage, you will each be taking on the roles of both biological parent and stepparent. And your kids will not only be gaining a new stepparent, but new stepsiblings and possibly a new home. With so many new roles, relationships, and changes, don’t be surprised if there is conflict or confusion at first. To look on the bright side, the fact that you are all navigating those changes together means that everyone is on equal footing. You are not adding one new stepparent to an existing family; instead, you are all creating a new family together.
In This Together
While your role as a parent or stepparent is a top priority, be careful not to let it come at the expense of your new role as a husband or wife. That’s because one of the best things you can do for your kids is to have a healthy, stable marriage. We’ll cover more about how to guard your marriage in an upcoming article.
Also, know that you and your spouse don’t have to navigate this process of blending your family alone. You can connect with other blended families at Watermark and learn from those who have more parenting and stepparenting experience. You can also get plugged in to a community group with other married couples and help each other work through the specific parenting questions that are sure to come up. If there is anything we can help you with, please contact us.