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7 Solid Strategies to Survive Your First Year as a Newly Blended Family
New relationships, as exciting and filled with hope as they may be, are difficult. That’s especially true at the very beginning as you work to become acclimated to each other and blend your two lives into one cohesive unit. When you add children to the mix—along with the complex cornucopia of emotions they bring—this exciting situation can quickly become overwhelming.
In the United States, divorce has been one of the most common reasons for blended families. In 2020, the divorce rate was 2.9 for every 1,000 people, while the marriage rate was 6.5 for every 1,000. To put that in perspective, there were a little over 2 million marriages in 2020, but almost 800,000 marriages ended in divorce. But, of course, blended families don’t just come from divorce.
There are families who join together through adoption. Other families are created when a person’s spouse passes away; they may remarry and then join two families together. There are cases of “his-hers-and ours,” where couples with children from previous relationships have another child together with all kinds of combinations of familial backgrounds.
Regardless of how your family has come to be “your family,” it’s important to know and realize that your first year together is a huge transition time for everyone involved—and it takes patience and understanding to survive it.
One of the most important aspects you’ll need to recognize is the impact this change can have on your children. Kids won’t know what to expect, especially in the beginning and they may be sensitive to their other parent’s feelings about this new arrangement. They may be concerned that the other parent is being “left out,” as they build a new relationship with your other children. Creating time for you and your loved ones to build these relationships is vital to keep a stable home for your new family.
Here are seven strategies to help you navigate your first year together as a newly blended family.
1. Establish family rules.
The first thing you need to do is lay down ground rules about how this is going to work for everyone involved. Making sure everyone knows what’s expected will lessen the tension between family members and make them more comfortable when bumps come along the way. Be sure to include everyone on the rules—including former spouses and even grandparents if they play an active role in your children’s lives—so everyone feels that they contributed.
2. Prioritize respect.
One of your top rules needs to be that everyone respects—and shows respect—to everyone else in the blended family, especially for the parents in these situations. Children learn by watching what we do as their role models. If you show them that you don’t respect someone, they’ll mirror that behavior.
Maybe your relationship with your ex wasn’t as harmonious as anyone would have liked. That’s in the past and you’re starting new. So pledge to not say anything in front of your kids that will put down or denigrate their other parent. And don’t let others in your new household do it either. If this is a big issue for you, bring in a therapist (at least for a few months) to help your blended family understand what respect is and what it looks like.
3. Give everyone time to mourn what was and to accept what is now.
Creating a new family is a huge change in anyone’s life, be it for parent or child. Your whole family is experiencing a major life event. Even if you know each other well, it’s still a big transition to live in the same house, if you haven’t done it before. So allow space for your children to feel their feelings. Let them know it’s OK to feel sad, mad or confused about the situation. Also, make sure they know they can come to you, your partner or another trusted adult with any concerns they have.
4. Make your personal relationship with your new partner a priority.
Stability is the foundation of any great family. Provide that for your family by creating a regular date night where you enjoy doing something together with your partner. Also, find times to check in with each other so you can discuss family concerns in a safe space. It may be a little bit of a balancing act, as you have to build a relationship as a newly married couple while also building a family at the same time. But it can—and must—be done in order to create a loving home.
5. Don’t avoid hard conversations or try to be the peacemaker for everyone.
This process isn’t always going to be easy and you should expect that there will be setbacks. This means there will be hard conversations that you need to have with everyone involved. Avoiding these conversations will only make the issues worse because they’ll have time to fester and become aggravated. But you also don’t want to do the exact opposite by trying to be the peacekeeper in every conflict.
Some things need to be worked out between individual family members, children especially. For those issues that really need to be addressed, do so within a safe space and be sure to express love for the other person. Never let them think that this conflict in any way diminishes your love for them. If you remember that everyone wants the same thing—a loving family home—then you can work toward resolving issues.
Of course, always reach out to a therapist or trusted clergyperson if you feel that your family needs some extra help and encouragement.
6. Former partners need to know any new arrangements.
Conversations may need to happen with your former partner as well as with your new partner’s ex. Respectfully talk to them about what the rules and routines are in your new home. This will help to ensure peaceful exchanges. After the initial awkwardness (and there probably will be some of that), the chats can be short and infrequent, but they should be focused on the children’s best interests and providing consistency in health, school, and behavior.
7. Set up a schedule.
If you have children with a past partner—or if your partner has the same situation—then you may have children going in and out of your home for days, weekends, or even whole weeks at a time as part of shared custody. This can feel very chaotic, so it’s important to provide a calendar so your child knows exactly where they’ll be. This uncertainty about “whose house will I be at this weekend” can cause a lot of unneeded anxiety.
If you also have a shared child with your new partner, that child may not be leaving like the others, so there may need to be some smoothing out there as well to make sure that no one feels left out of experiences.
Blended families allow you to bring your loved ones together into one big, symbiotic relationship. But it does take time and patience to navigate the situation. By following these tips, you can survive the first year and have many happy years to come.
Contact the Compassionate Family Law Attorneys at Smedley Law Group in Woodbury, NJ Today
If you’ve gone through a divorce, you’ll also most likely be dealing with another matter or post-judgment issues including child custody, child support, or division of assets, so you’ll need to speak with a qualified attorney. The New Jersey family law attorneys at Smedley Law Group represent clients throughout the state, including West Deptford, Woodbury Heights, Runnemede, and Westville. We understand how challenging this time can be for you, which is why we will fight hard to protect your interests, and the interests of your loved ones, throughout the legal process. Call us at (856) 251-0800 or fill out our confidential contact form to schedule a consultation. We have an office conveniently located at 750 Cooper Street, Woodbury, NJ 08096.
The articles on this blog are for informative purposes only and are no substitute for legal advice or an attorney-client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact our law firm directly.