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Tips for Building Successful Blended Families

Vrinda Varnekar
The prospect of blending two families together may seem exciting and fulfilling, though it rarely does turn out to be what you've envisaged. It is not easy, and yet once you have it, it is so worth the time and efforts you've put in!
An essential stepmother lesson...to accept that you are not perfect, you never will be, and that's good enough.
― Anonymous
Parenting is certainly not an easy task, regardless of the age of the child. While building relationships is not easy, it can be especially difficult to build and maintain relationships that involve step-parenting. While most may dream about perfectly mixing two families together, this dream couldn't be further from the truth. 
Yes, in some exceptional cases it is quite amiable and harmonious from the start, but in other cases, it is you and your partner who have to bring about that harmony. And don't worry, you certainly can, provided you're both ready and willing to overcome any minor obstacles that may stand in the way.
We're aware of the conventional terms used to describe families and parenting: traditional families, joint families, single families, extended families, etc. Blended families is another such type though it isn't widely known by this term. So what are blended families anyway? Are they really as difficult to handle as is claimed?
Is it even possible to have a happy blended family? What can you do to ensure peace and harmony in the family? We answer all your questions through the tips we've given below. Before we move on to the tips, let us take a minute to understand what blended families really are.

What Are Blended Families?

Blended families are created when two different families 'blend' or mix together to become one. This happens when two people decide to get married, and either one (or both) has children from a previous marriage.
The Oxford Dictionary defines a blended family as "A family consisting of a couple, the children they have had together, and their children from previous relationships." Blended families thus can be, and generally are, of quite a large size, though this is not a requisite.

Tips for Successful Step Parenting

It would not be correct to assume from the start that your new, blended family will be just like your old one because this new family is a sudden and rather drastic change not only for you and your new spouse, but also for your respective children.
Hence, it is imperative to wait for time to wave its wand before the 'blend' in your blended family really is perfect. While you're waiting, you can definitely make sure you're trying to achieve this harmonious blend from your side at the very least. Here are some tips to help you get there.

Accept the challenge

Accepting that you have a challenge is the first step towards successfully completing it. Accept and acknowledge that creating a harmonious blended family may not be easy, and that it might frustrate you or disappoint you in the short run.
However, this attitude is going to certainly help you in the long run when you suddenly realize that your blended family is the best thing that could have happened to you, aside from your partner.

Have an extended courtship

While it may be natural that you and your new partner want to get married and start living together immediately, you must remember that this isn't about just you two, but about your respective children as well. Have an extended courtship period, and establish civil relationships with the children during this time itself.
This way, there are no surprises later on, and everyone is somewhat used to each other and the change isn't as drastic as it would be otherwise. An extended courtship period would ideally be one year, or even more than that.

Be patient

Patience is really the key to achieving peace and harmony in your blended family. Don't expect for changes overnight, and don't expect your stepchildren to fall in love with you in a short while. As a matter of fact, you may not like them immediately, either!

Take the high road, you're the mature adult here.

Love, respect, and affection take time. Try to overlook any outbursts from your stepchildren, it is only natural that they are acting out due to the sudden changes in their lives. While you have to be firm, don't be very strict, and try to ignore any emotional manipulation such as something on the lines of "You're not my mom/dad!".

Establish individual relationships

While you may want to have the 'Aren't-we-one-big-happy-family' phase immediately, the fact remains that establishing solid relationships at an individual level is the only way to get there. Yes, having dinner as a family, watching TV together, or heading out for a day of shopping are important elements in getting to know one another and communicating more.
However, having great individual relationships is just as important. Try to find out what your stepchild's likes and dislikes are, and try to bond with him/her based on those.
Some quality time spent doing what the child likes tends to change his/her perception of you to quite an extent. Avoid criticism or any negativity during this time, and it will create a comfort level between you two.

Mutually decide the rules to be followed

The trick to a happy blended family is not expecting it to be just like your previous family. It's not just you and your kids now, but your spouse and his/her children (who have been raised in a different atmosphere, don't forget!) too. Decide with your partner the ground rules which all the children need to adhere to.
These rules cover basic things like the allowances to be given, the time they're allowed to stay out till, the chores to be shared, the punishments to be meted out, etc. Your partner and you need to be on the same page at all times.

Handle punishments carefully

In case of your stepchildren, don't raise your voice or scold them if you're not happy about anything. Let your partner handle his/her biological children in the beginning. Don't be the bad guy here, it'll cause them to hate you.
Don't ever complain about your stepchildren to your partner (or someone else) in front of them, it will make them feel humiliated which will lead them to troubling you even more.
When you don't play the bad guy in front of your stepchildren but instead just stay your spouse's silent support, it'll somehow help melt the ice between you and them. Don't look down upon your spouse when he or she is handing out punishment, but don't let the children feel as if it was you who asked your spouse to do so in the first place.

Let the names come on their own

Don't enforce the children to call their step-parent mom or dad, but let the transition take place at its own pace. If the child feels more comfortable with any other name instead of mom or dad, so be it. Similarly, don't force the children to have great relationships with one another.
Just let them know what kind of behavior you expect in the family in a gentle yet firm manner, and let them adjust with each other in the pace they want. There's a chance they may not like each other, but support and love from the two of you will eventually get them there.

Be a friend

This is perhaps one of the most important secrets to a successful blended family. Your stepchildren already have a mother and father, and may blame you of trying to replace a parent. To avoid this, you need to let your stepchildren know (through your actions not words) that you're going to be a friend to them and are not going to replace their parents.
Indulge with them in their hobbies, make them their favorite food, talk to them about what they did that day, joke and laugh with them, and join them in their mischief (within the lines of safe behavior, of course!) and basically, have fun.
Once the children know and understand that you're more of a friend and confidant than a parent, your relationship with them will be much better, and it'll only get even better as time passes.

Set aside some 'just-us' time

In a marriage without children, there is plenty of time for couples to know and spend quality time with one another before having kids of their own. However, in blended families, the children take up almost all of the parents' time, energy, and focus.
You must remember that you cannot let the stress affect the amazing relationship between you and your spouse. Make it a point to spend some quality time with one another; go out for a movie, go out for dinner, or simply grab a cup of coffee together.
It may not be very fancy, but it will be a refreshing change for both of you, will give you a chance to reconnect, and also to remember why you're dealing with the stress; you love your spouse, and they make it worth it.

Find ways to bond collectively

Yes, establishing solid relationships is of course essential for a blended family to live in happiness. However, you also need to make sure that the family as a whole bonds collectively. Have dinner together every night, without having the television set on, and without any cell phones taking up anyone's attention.
Talk about the events of the day, and encourage the children to share their experiences as well. Try to watch movies together, whether at a movie theater or simply at home. Take the children out for a day of shopping or maybe to the amusement park, and ensure that you and your spouse are both actively involved.
However, collective bonding also happens over very little yet significant things, such as asking the children for their opinions regarding a family decision.

Be very polite when talking about your ex/your spouse's ex partner

We understand that you may hate your spouse's ex (or your ex) passionately. While this is a natural emotion in your case, the children will not appreciate any criticism about their biological parent. Remember, you don't have to prove to the children or to anyone else that you're better than your spouse's ex.
Be very polite to them and when you're talking about them in front of the children. In the case of your ex, your children still may be attached to him/her in some way or the other and may feel betrayed when you talk disdainfully about him/her.
Don't let them know what you really feel about him/her. You know the old saying, if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all.

Get out of the way

When parents remarry, the child often tends to get insecure about the love and attention (or the lack thereof) from the biological parent. Therefore, encourage your spouse to spend some quality time alone with his/her biological children.
This will definitely help the child understand and accept that he or she hasn't been replaced by the new partner, and that the biological parent still loves him/her as much as before. Don't expect your new family to do everything together.
If you have children from your previous marriage, make sure you set some special time aside for them, while your spouse spends time with his/her own children separately. This can be done until the children feel secure and comfortable in the new blended family.

Share your feelings with a third person

We agree with you, living in a blended family is really not easy. There are so many things that you may want to get off your chest, but can't because they aren't what you can share with your spouse, and certainly not what you can share with the children.
However, keeping problems bottled inside you is not healthy. Speak to someone you're comfortable with; a friend, a colleague, a neighbor, or a family member about the problems, and let yourself feel the burden falling off your shoulders.

Give importance to special occasions

Occasions such as birthdays, anniversaries, and of course, festivals and holidays are a great way for a blended family to bond. For instance, Christmas can be a great time for everyone to think of each other and celebrate. Have fun games like Secret Santa and gift-exchanges which will increase the comfort level between family members.
On birthdays, make sure you make it a day to remember for the child. Have a small party, give a nice gift, or bake him/her a nice cake; it doesn't matter what it is, as long as it makes the child feel special.
A blended family, as you will soon find out, is a beautiful institution filled with love, respect and admiration provided you handle the initial stages of the relationship correctly. Even if you feel it's too late, trust us, it's not. You can still turn the tables and make your new family what you've always wanted to be.
With some efforts, understanding, and affection from your side, you'll find that your blended family, your precious little world, is indeed worth it.