Though the rate is declining, about 40-50% of all marriages still end in divorce. Blended families are just as common. At least half of the children that come from a divorced couple live primarily with one parent and a stepparent.
Sometimes, divorces end amicably. Couples realize they just weren’t “meant to be” and can work things out peacefully. That includes creating a parenting plan for their kids. Other times, courts get involved and custody battles and visitation schedules become the norm.
Whatever the case for your divorce, there are some challenges you may have to deal with long after the final paperwork is signed – including the hurdles of a blended family.
If you or your former spouse get remarried, it’s important to understand some of those challenges you may face with your children (or your new partner’s kids), and how to handle them. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at how you can make this new life change easier for you and your family.
Finding the Right Arrangement
Every blended family is different. You might have one child or several. Your new partner/spouse might have a few kids, or no experience being around them. Finding the right arrangement for everyone should be your top priority.
For some former couples, that means birdnesting. Birdnesting is the practice of keeping the marital home where your kids will stay permanently. It’s the parents who “switch” now and then to be there. When you’re not in the home, you might have an apartment for yourself or another place to live. If your new partner has children, that might not work, but if you’re the only one with kids it’s an option.
Other arrangements include weekend visitations, summer scheduling, and switching back and forth for holidays. It’s up to you to decide whether a court should create your custody schedule or if you’ll be able to arrange it with your ex-spouse.
In any case, your children should always be first in your arrangement. That’s why it’s so important to have multiple discussions when creating a blended family – with your ex and your current partner.
Talking It Over
Parenting after a divorce is difficult enough. When you’re dealing with your former spouse, you’ll have to discuss how to effectively co-parent and what that should look like. But, when you’re trying to create a blended family with someone new, there are even bigger discussions to have. Some of the challenges you might face include:
- Different parenting styles
- Dealing with new relationships
- Conflicting emotions
Understand that you won’t be the only one facing challenges. Your children will be learning how to adapt and deal with new people, new expectations, and perhaps even new surroundings. That’s on top of the struggles they might already be dealing with from your divorce. Being on the same page with your partner about how to handle the challenges that are sure to arise is important. If you’re not sure where to get started with that discussion, consider bringing up some of the following questions before you make a permanent commitment:
- How do you handle conflict?
- What are you willing to sacrifice?
- What does trust look like?
- What are your goals for the future?
- What does independence mean to you?
While talking things over ahead of time won’t necessarily make your challenges easier, it can prepare you for them. Plus, it allows both you and your partner to feel understood and supported so you can work together for your kids.
Developing Deeper Connections
One of the biggest challenges you might face is connecting with each other’s children. It’s not uncommon for children of divorce to be hesitant to form relationships with new partners. Your life isn’t going to look like the Brady Bunch, which is why it’s so important to manage your expectations when it comes to developing a relationship with stepchildren.
Showing a united front as a couple is important. But, getting to know stepchildren on your own is just as crucial, so you can develop deeper connections. A great way to do that is to find some common ground. Are you and your stepchild both interested in sports? Take them to a game – just the two of you. Do you both love music? Show them your record collection.
If the child has to deal with other issues in their life, such as a disability or cultural differences that make them stand out, use those things as a way to connect. Show them your comic book collection of diverse characters so they can feel like a superhero. Or, watch highlight videos of minority athletes or musicians with disabilities. Finding a connection, no matter how small, will improve your relationship with your stepchild and make your living situation easier.
It’s safe to say there will be challenges, no matter what. Blended family parenting isn’t always easy. But, if you’re willing to keep everyone involved well informed and take things slowly, you can tackle those changes effectively and enjoy the growth of your family.