Blended Family Advice for Parents with Young Children
Blended families have lost the stigma from the Brady Bunch days, but there is still more work to do. As parents, we need to re-invent blended families past the taboo and into something positive for our culture. Blended families need to become families with more opportunities to love, instead of more opportunities for hate and discord. Here are some solid tips for parents and step parents to adopt for blended families with young children to increase the love.
#1 Learn to like each other as people.
Kids under the age of 5 have a very simple concept of loyalty: Whoever my (Mom, Dad) like, I must like too. This goes the other way too, those Mom or Dad do not like, a child will try to dislike, or feel extreme guilt when they don't dislike the person. Children this age learn by mimicking behavior they see around them. As parents, you must come to a common ground of liking one another, regardless of past trespasses. Kids need to hear and see their parents be positive about their other parents. Try to say at least 3 positive things about the other parents when the child is in your possession.
#2 Check the jealousy at the door.
The greatest obstacle to communication between parents and step parents is jealousy. Biological parents feel a natural threat to their role whenever a new step parent comes into the family. Moms and Dads need to realize no one can take away their title, especially if they are doing a good job at it. Step parents are extra parents: extra parents to give love to the children, rear children as more well-rounded individuals, and share in the taxing responsibilities of raising a family. Young children know who Mommy and Daddy are, but may begin to call step parents Mommy or Daddy, or other pet names. Smart parents will let it happen, and take shelter in the fact their child has such a great level of comfort in the blended family. Do not try to force your child to call a step parent anything, and try to avoid using terms like Miss and Mister in front of names. The goal is for children to feel comfortable with step parents and just the first name or Mom and Dad should suffice.
#3 The children are ours.
Step kids, half brothers, half sisters, brothers, sisters, and anything in between are our kids. Parents need to start changing their language from the start of a blended family to stymie any feelings of jealousy or preferred status among children. Discuss how kids born to the new married couples will be handled. Try terms like “There are 5 kids in the family, and 2 live with us full-time, and 3 visit regularly.” See if there are creative terms for siblings unrelated by blood, but connected through a common half-brother or half-sister. Try to coordinate holidays and birthdays so all the kids feel included and loved by all.
#4 Discipline is handled by the parent who witnesses the misbehavior, period.
It is a bad idea to begin the policy of only parents can discipline children, and step parents are glorified babysitters. Young children need instant correction for misdeeds, or the discipline is lost. A 4-year-old girl can't remember at 5 PM when Daddy comes home what she did wrong at 11 AM when she was home with Step Mom. All parents and step parents need to have clear discipline agreements with how misbehavior should be handled, either through time outs, removal of privileges, or corporal punishment. This policy at the beginning will prevent later temptations in the child to play one parent or step parent off the other.
#5 Keep rules as consistent as possible.
The decision to divorce is also a decision to parent by group. As a group, parents and step parents need to come up with common guidelines of acceptable behavior in both homes. If the 5-year-old is expected to say “Ma'am,” and “Sir,” in one home, it's easier on the child to keep it a rule at both homes. Will there be rules as a parent you aren't thrilled with? Absolutely. The key is to compromise, and pick your battles as Mom, Dad, Step Mom, and Step Dad, and remember to give in when you can. Time regulations on things like playing video games, playing outside, curfews, phone time, etc. will be far easier with this foundation in place. Plus, all parents will benefit from the fact that the child will not perceive either home to be the “fun” house.
A successful blended family is a challenge. When done correctly, it can be a large family of love and great parenting. It only takes a little bit of maturity on the part of parents, and improving communication to keep the family on as much common ground as possible. More and more American families are faced with the tragedy of divorce. The resulting blended family can be a renewal of the family unit, and raise well-adjusted young adults who felt loved by many every step of the way.