BLENDING your family with that of your new spouse will require some amount of adjustment, especially for young children who might take a while to warm up to the idea that they are getting a new sibling or guardian.
“It’s two different families and two different sets of behaviours, and so the spouse will have to talk to the children about the upcoming merger and let them ventilate their feelings about it and say what they would like to see and what they might not like,” said child psychologist Dr Yvonne Bailey Davidson.
While shows such as the Brady Bunch make this transition seem easy, the process of readjustment could be fraught with several challenges, especially if the children are made to feel that their concerns and inputs on their new family structure is irrelevant.
“The child will see the spouse as taking the place of their other parent and they don’t want the parent’s place to be taken by any stranger, and so they might react by acting out behaviourally, like being disrespectful to the new person,” she said.
As a parent, it is your responsibility to make the process of merging the two families as seamless as possible. Your partner will also need to understand that the process will take time and so they will have to exercise patience and tolerance.
Here are some tips for getting your child adjusted to a blended family structure:
1. Let you child know of your intention to get married or to live with a new partner and listen keenly to their concerns. Try to allay their fears by discussing these necessary adjustments to make it easy for your children to adjust.
2. Plan activities that both your children and your stepchildren will like. This will ensure that neither feels shortchanged when it comes to doing activities as a family. Try to do regular activities such as cooking, grocery shopping and cleaning the house together, so that nobody will feel left out.
3. Don’t speak ill of your child’s father or mother in their presence with your new spouse. Save such discussions for when you and your partner are alone. This will only lead your child to express resentment towards you or experience guilt because they are thrust between taking either your side or that of their other parent.
4. Establish new traditions as a family which are mutually agreed upon by your children and stepchildren. Ask them what they would like to do for Christmas holidays and for birthdays. But at the same time, do not prevent your child from spending time with their birth mother or father simply because you are no longer together.
5. Have a family meeting from early to discuss the rules, regulations and consequences for various offences and behaviours. Let both your children and stepchildren know what are the expectations of you and your new spouse.
6. If possible, try to be the one to discipline your child and allow your partner to discipline theirs. This will help to protect you from accusations of abuse. This is not to suggest that will have no say in correcting your stepchild/children when they are wrong.
7. Get involved in all aspects of your stepchild’s life and encourage your spouse to get involved in yours. Get to know their teachers, try and pick them up from school and take them to extra-curricular activities when you can. Do your part to assure them they can trust and
confide in you.