Mum, stepmum and blended family relationship coach ADELE CORNISH explains that successfully blending families is all about building relationships.
A BIG ADJUSTMENT
A child’s adjustment can have a profound impact on the pressure couples face – which is highlighted when children are around home over the holidays. It is useful to understand that children have been through three life-changing upheavals: the loss of their biological parents’ relationship, the switch to living in a single-parent household, and the transition into the new blended family. As adults, empathise with their experience of change and provide support and reassurance.
Children in a shared custody arrangement will go through a ‘settling back in period’ after staying with an ex-partner. Some may be quiet or subdued, and others may be overactive and attention-seeking. Allow them time to adjust, usually 24 hours, and show extra grace.
ROUTINES & BELONGING
You can create the kind of environment in your home where children feel secure and connected, and routines play an important part in helping them to adjust. When a child arrives for a visit, have a room or area ready where they can put their belongings. Organise a snack time and use the opportunity to talk about what will happen during their visit. If the visit is for the course of a weekend, try to stick to a similar routine each time.
Give children tasks to perform, such as setting and clearing the table, making their bed, and contributing to tidy-up time. This will help them feel a sense of belonging and significance; part of the family and not just a guest.
When it comes to behavioural expectations, the stepparent and biological parent can discuss rules or boundaries together, and gather their children’s feedback on these. Discuss how family members should speak to each other. What tone should they use? What words are not ok?
When following through on the plan, use team phrases such as, ‘in our home we will…’, rather than, ‘you will…’, to avoid singling out a child who may be particularly challenging. These give strength to your request if you are a stepparent, and help children appreciate that family life is a team effort, with parents at the head.
There’s a saying that goes: ‘rules without a relationship produce rebellion’. If a stepparent comes on strong with rules and consequences, before developing a relationship of mutual respect and trust with their stepchild, rebellion is likely. It can take years for this kind of relationship to develop. So, the biological parent is generally the best person to assume responsibility for addressing any behavioural issues, based on pre-agreed boundaries.
Encourage children to help with planning activities you can all do together to build relationships and have fun. Finally, take time out to develop some new family traditions: they’ll help build your blended family into a great supportive team!
Adele Cornish is a mother, stepmother, author, speaker and blended family relationship coach. She has developed a programme that teaches practical skills and strategies to blended families worldwide, enabling them to overcome the common obstacles to success.