Blended families come together with unique challenges. The success rate for blended families is very poor with a failure rate of 60-75%. Although much of this is related to unfinished business in previous relationships, some of this is undoubtedly related to the stress of blending a new family.
The new relationship has to mesh the traditions and parenting styles of two different families and often under a pressure cooker of emotions. Marriage is tricky by itself, and exponentially so when trying to become a co-parent for new children. So here's some thoughts on parenting in blended families:
- Strive to keep a united front and work together. There needs to be excellent communication between parents. If you disagree, do so behind closed doors and not in front of the kids--parents need to support each other in front of the kids. It will undermine both the marriage relationship and the parenting if one parent rescues their children from discipline rather than following through with the consequences that you established together.
- Biological parents should take the lead in discipline. First, check your own biases. It can be very difficult for a parent to support their spouse if they have an enmeshed relationship with their biological children. Parents who are too close to their kids can endanger their marriage by supporting their kids over their spouse. Second, rules will be more readily accepted when established and reinforced by the biological parent who already has an established loving relationship. It is difficult to have to make or enforce rules outside the context of a relationship. The step parent needs to be empowered to act as parent and intervene when needed, but as much as possible allow the biological parent to take the lead with discipline. Having the biological parent handle discipline will limit the new step parent being vilified as the bad guy. Third, since discipline is better received within the context of the relationship where trust has already been established, let the step-parent take time to invest in the children and their interests so trust can be built. Listen to your step-children's fears and concerns about the new family structure.
- Consistency is important for discipline to be effective. Parents need to be on the same page about how they are going to handle discipline. Discipline should be discussed prior to entering into a relationship together to assure you have compatible parenting philosophies. If one parent is strict and another is a push over, work out a compromise so all children have consistency to feel secure. Be careful to enforce the rules for all kids at an age-appropriate level. If the rules are always changing, children never know where they stand, producing much anxiety about the family.
- Prayer will be an essential ingredient for success within your relationships. Prayer is a powerful tool for impacting our families. Prayer guides us to turn over to God the things that we are unable to change. God can soften hearts, build bridges, and impact things outside of our control. We free ourselves, when we give God control. Prayer is also very beneficial to our marriages. Couples who pray together significantly reduce their risk of divorce. Praying together for your children will unite your heart with that of your spouse. We are blessed when we can share the concerns on our hearts with God and with one another.
- Seeking support from a trained counselor can be very beneficial in managing the delicate balance in blended families. Couples need to seek support early on in the relationship before animosity is burned into the fibers of the relationship. Children and parents enter these marriages still carrying the baggage from the previous relationships and benefit from professionals guiding them through the unpacking.
In short, the rules for parenting are not fundamentally different for blended families (unity, consistency, relationship), but the webs of blended relationship present pointed complications.