“’Til the one day when the lady met this fellow,
And they knew that it was much more than a hunch.
That this group must somehow form a family.
That’s the way they all became the Brady Bunch!”
It’s “much more than a hunch” that being part of a blended family has challenges all its own. And unlike what you might assume from watching TV sitcoms, most of them can’t be resolved in 30 minutes or less.
Blended families are a phenomenon that first became prominent during the mid-1960s when divorce rates began soaring. A study by Pew Research revealed that in 1960, 73% of all children were living in a family with two married parents in their first marriage. By the mid-2010s, less than half (46%) still fit into this traditional model. Over that time, the nuclear family evolved and devolved — and what defines a “family” today is much more inclusive and diverse.
Let’s look at some of the most significant issues most blended families with kids living at home need to address — as well as a few practical solutions to them. For the purpose of this blog, we’ll deal specifically with blended households with underage children and teens still living at home.
Set Household Rules and Be Consistent
Some parents are strict; others are more laid back in their approach to child rearing. Not being on the same page when parenting children in a blended family can create a lot of confusion, particularly for kids caught in the middle. Even if you lived together before marriage, you’re now an authority figure to your partner’s children. If you and your partner don’t present a united front — and guidelines — about expectations, this abrupt change can be bumpy.
Sit down with your partner to set household rules and expectations. Agree that the same rules apply to everyone. Then, gather the kids together, explain those expectations, making it clear everyone will be treated the same way.
There will be times you need to be critical about your partner’s children and you, theirs. Instead of becoming defensive, try to see these criticisms as an opportunity to help both of you parent your new family together.
Remember That “Kids Will Be Kids”
Even well-behaved, children in a blended family don’t always get along all the time. They will have arguments, and there may be times when they take sides against each other. Just keep your cool and avoid the urge to become a referee.
Sibling rivalries between your children can multiply rapidly when new kids from the blended situation start competing for attention, validation and approval. You and your partner need to discuss how to diffuse this and make every child feel equally valued.
The old saying, “The wheel that squeaks gets the grease” has a lot of truth behind it. Less demonstrative or naturally shy kids are easily overlooked in your quest for family harmony. Don’t make the mistake of pushing their needs into the background. Find a way to spend some quality time with each child — something fun like a trip to the ballpark, bowling or the movies.
Consider Exes as Part the Family Dynamic
No matter what your relationship with a former partner was like, they are still official family members. While it might be challenging — even awkward — to deal with an ex, do your best to at least be cordial and always try to reach a consensus on the bigger issues.
Kids sense when you’re uncomfortable with a former partner, which can put them in an unfair position. Even if you’re upset, avoid the temptation to say unkind things about an ex-spouse in front of a child. Don’t force them to defend the other parent.
Establish New Family Traditions
Blended families bring a lot of formerly separate rules, customs and traditions together under a single roof. Our advice: Take some of the best from both former households, then start building new traditions that are yours alone.
Start with something simple, like a volunteering opportunity in your local community. Put a new spin on the holidays by celebrating them with new decorations, a party or even an evening of storytelling where everyone can take part. Find outings and activities you all enjoy, as they’re a chance to get out there and have fun. You can also collaborate on ways to decorate your “blended home” so that everyone feels actively involved in your new life together.
Real life isn’t like “The Brady Bunch,” “Full House” or even “Modern Family.” Blended families take a lot of work, at least initially. There’s bound to be a learning curve and you’re bound to make some mistakes along the way.
Be open and honest about the rough patches and be ready to adapt to changing dynamics quickly. Talk to the children, especially about any missteps you’ve made and what you’re going to change going forward.
And here’s something else to consider: Many couples in a blended family situation say that moving into an entirely new home, rather than one of the partner’s, works better. It dials down “territorial” issues (like who gets what bedroom). A brand-new environment is a more level playing field that feels like a new adventure for everyone.
Reach Out for Help
Reaching a state of blended bliss doesn’t happen automatically. You may find seeking help from a family counselor or other professional may make a positive difference in all your lives. Also check out “Facts for Families,” published by The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, for some useful information. There are also books, such as “Building Love Together in Blended Families,” that are full of practical tips and advice.
We hope your journey to Finding Home is smooth and successful. And remember, no matter where you happen to be in the moving process, you can count on Mayflower to be with you Every Step of the Way®.
Want more tips and advice? Check out our other blogs for city guides, decorating ideas and a wealth of other helpful, time-saving information.
Oh, and did you know Mayflower has a channel on Spotify? Move and groove to tunes that get you to your new place — and settled in — in style.