Blended families naturally face countless combinations of complexities. The intertwining worlds of parents, stepparents, children, and stepsiblings, as well as their potentially clashing values, emotions, and schedules, can be a tough world for families to navigate. Children in these families constantly have to adjust as they move back and forth between households, navigating the different personalities and parenting styles of their biological parents and stepparents.
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Children in blended families are immersed in a family dynamic that they did not create and have little control over. Therefore, stability is a key component of creating a safe, nurturing environment for kids to thrive. But how do you create stability for children when their environment is continually changing? This outcome first requires understanding what they are experiencing.
Walking in Your Children's Shoes in a Blended Family
Think about how challenging this lifestyle is for children of blended families. Take the time to talk to your kids about their experiences. Understanding their perspective and empathizing with their feelings will help them feel understood and loved. It will also allow you to understand better how the family dynamic affects them.
Empathy is about truly taking the time to understand what someone else is experiencing. Merely feeling bad for what your children are going through without trying to understand their feelings won't allow them to feel loved and heard.
Empathizing is especially important if you did not grow up with stepparents or stepsiblings. Schedules and the back and forth are considerably demanding for parents; however, parents often set schedules based on what is best for them, i.e., compatible with their work, versus considering what is less stressful for their kids. Understanding the effects and stress children experience regularly will enable you to design a more stable home life.
Related Reading: Empathy vs Sympathy: What's the Difference?
Are You Moving in the Best Interest of Yourself, Your Kids—or Both?
Navigating chaotic school and work schedules on top of multiple activities and personal responsibilities takes a lot of effort and planning. Coordinating schedules between multiple people and households is not an easy task. Using time effectively is important; yet remember to ask yourself if what you’re doing is more about you or the kids. It is unnecessary and unrealistic to rearrange schedules to accommodate the children fully; however, considering their needs is crucial.
Additionally, family needs change over time, so periodically reviewing and adjusting is essential. For example, is the rotating schedule between households outdated? As children get older, their school schedules change, and they need support from each parent. All families and parents need to regularly revisit routines and work together to create a cohesive schedule that works for everyone to ensure the best flow. Children observing their parents working together effectively also shows a united front among parents and those who care about them.
Although working together between parents and households is ideal, it doesn't come without challenges. In some cases, the communications lack civility or can be strained. Yet, it’s best when parents can set aside their differences and work together in the kids’ best interest. Presenting a unified front for children illustrates that the children’s welfare outweighs differences and can help ease the stresses. When children see their parents are on the same team, they will experience a higher level of safety and security in both homes.
Related Reading: Tips to Help You Survive—and Thrive—as a Blended Family
3 Ways to Create a United Front Kids Can Count On in Blended Families
Building stability when kids are continually adjusting to different households requires ongoing efforts and consistency. Here are some actions parents can take to ease the effects on kids as they move back and forth between parents and homes.
1 Build a Consistent Routine
Consistency is crucial for all children, but especially for children from divorced families since their worlds have already been turned upside down. Agreements between households with set schedules allow kids to know what to expect, including rotating home schedules and daily routines of each household. This structure and routine create familiarity and safety for kids, especially young children.
Rituals are also vital. Something as simple as a bedtime routine such as storytime, facetime with their parent at the other household, or a consistent family mealtime can promote more comfort and security for kids.
2 Have Conversations in Private That Affect Children
Kids observe and feel much more than we sometimes realize. They can sense any tension between their parents. Children might have unresolved feelings about their parent's new partners or their relationship with stepsiblings without knowing how to process or navigate the situation. If they feel that their parents are at odds, children may feel stuck in the middle and unsupported. Stepchildren can feel guilt for liking or loving their stepparent; it can feel like a betrayal of their biological parent.
When problems arise or discussions need to happen around sensitive subjects, it's best to meet privately, away from kids' eyes and ears. Issues and challenges are natural in all families; knowing when and what is appropriate to share with or around children is vital to keep children feeling secure.
This approach is equally crucial whether within the household between a parent and stepparent or between homes with their biological parents. All parents' agreement on how to handle issues as they arise models problem solving for kids. If it is possible to address smaller issues in appropriate, respectful ways in front of the children, it will show children that parents can be a team.
3 Take Ownership of Your Adult Problems
Your problems are not your kid's problems. Whether struggles are with your child's other parent, your partner, other children, or unrelated to your family, don't let them spill over onto your children. Parents can mistakenly share, especially when upset, situations and emotions with children are present. Or a parent can treat the other parent disrespectfully in front of the kids. This behavior can be confusing to kids, and it's possible for them to draw false and unhelpful conclusions, such as the other family is the enemy versus you're all on the same team.
Children hearing negative name-calling or observing disrespectful treatment of another parent may create uncomfortable feelings for kids. Taking ownership of your problems while handling them in a timely and appropriate fashion helps create safety for children.
Parenting is hard work!
Having a support system is key to ensuring that you have the resources and help to be at your best. Blended families' unique challenges can be difficult and exhausting.
4 View your blended family as a part of a multi-faceted village.
Talk about diversity with your children. Discuss how families come in all shapes and sizes. Create conversations about the many different types of people and personalities and how this variety can enrich a family while working together can be a great gift.
Even though a child's mom and dad are not together, it doesn't mean they can't work together to support their kids to be the best they can be, enabling them to be strong and confident kids.
If you are looking for support for stepparenting or your blended family, Heartmanity is here to help! We can assist you in building parenting skills for greater ease and success that empower your blended family to thrive. Sign up for our newsletter HeartMail, or check out our parenting favorites for immediate insights and tools. Or reach out to us for tailored help at email@example.com.