Blended Families: Do's and Don'ts

by Thomas Haller and Chick Moorman

Tyler and Ginny waited until they decided to get married to tell the children. Soon after they were married they informed the children they expected to be called mom and dad. Since they had different beliefs about discipline, Tyler and Ginny handled their children differently. A few months into their efforts to create a positive blended family experience, they realized it wasn't working. Strained relationships, marriage stress, and conflict abounded.

Sadly, much of the family tension that existed was preventable. Had Tyler and Ginny implemented the strategies detailed in the do's and don'ts of creating a blended family that follow, they could have saved themselves considerable frustration.

Are you contemplating blending two families together? Are you planning on marrying someone with children? If so, check out the ideas below. They just may help you create a more satisfying and nurturing blended family.

Do start talking with your children about the possibility of blending your family, early. LONG before your marriage, begin the dialogue about the future family life. Mix in lots of listening so that all the children feel heard.

Don't push your children into creating relationships. Allow those relationships to evolve slowly and naturally over time. Give your children the time, space and flexibility to adjust to the new situation.

Do establish new traditions. Some current traditions and rituals you will want to maintain. Others you will need to create around the new family setting. Look for uniqueness in your new blended family and build a tradition around that.

Don't expect your stepchildren to call you mom or dad. Let the stepchildren decide what they want to call you. Their comfort level is important here. If they don't naturally settle on a name, meet with them to establish a name that you are mutually comfortable being called.

Do establish a unified parenting approach that is evenly applied to all in the family. Reach agreement with your new partner on how to address the important parenting situations that present themselves. Correct behavior from a position of, "This is how we do it in our family."

Don't focus exclusively on the family and neglect strengthening your marriage. Raising children is a challenge. Raising other people's children is a special challenge. Having a strong marriage will help you manage the challenge of blending your families together.

Do spend some time alone with each child and stepchild. Set aside time each day to connect one-on-one with all the children in your new family. This will help them establish a sense of belonging that enhances their connection to the family.

Do hold family meetings. This gives all members of the family a chance to express their opinions and have input into the rules, schedule, and planning of upcoming events. Family meetings provide opportunities for family members to vent as well as express appreciation.

Don't attempt to do it alone. Seek support from a local community organization or family therapist professional.

Thomas Haller and Chick Moorman are the authors of The 10 Commitments: Parenting with Purpose, (Personal Power Press) and Couple-Talk.

Copyright © Thomas Haller and Chick Moorman. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org.