10 Must Do’s when Dealing with your Partner’s Children (Blended Families)
Help! The new love of my life already has children.
So you’ve met a single parent and considering the idea of becoming a blended family. Chances are he or she is divorced, widowed or at the least separated. What can you do to have the best possible chance of forming a loving and lasting relationship with their children and their wider family?
Here’s the 10 Must Do’s that will ensure that you build a happy and lasting relationship with your new family.
1. Honestly question your commitment and understand the implications of your decisions. Are you prepared to take on a ‘ready-made’ family? Does your lifestyle, temperament, career, health and values fit with the responsibilities and time that the children would require? Are you ‘tough skinned’ enough for the questions, comments and negative stories that people who have influence over the children may lead them to believe?
Most of all, are you prepared to commit to their parent? In all likelihood they already have gone through a lot of pain, so if you are not prepared for the long-haul think very carefully before they become too attached to you and have their hearts broken again.
2. Introduce yourself gradually. If your partner’s children are used to having them to themselves, and then this stranger is around all the time, it is going to confuse them. If they are teenagers, they are likely to view you warily and be protective of their parent or even jealous that you are taking them away (in their eyes). Suddenly always being there will be a massive change so tread carefully, and certainly don’t just ‘move in’, even if the children are very young.
Start off by joining your partner on their occasional outing, don’t be over familiar with them, or your partner (or even think about holding hands in front of the children just yet), and most of all take time to build a rapport with them, showing genuine interest in who they are and what they are interested in. Let them get to know you, as you get to know them.
3. Be honest about who you are. It is OK at first to describe yourself as their parent’s friend, but never lie to the children as this will set up distrust at all levels. Let them know (gently) that you go out on dates and care for their parent.
4. Blend into the family’s way of life. It is known as a ‘Blended’ family for a reason. Try to blend in by not making too many changes, demands or new rules until you have had a chance to see how the family works together, as they operated fine before you got there.
Be sensitive. Creating resentment is going to set you back a long way. Most issues occur unintentionally or without malice, but nevertheless it takes a long time to recover from. Try never to disagree with your new partner in front of their children, punish them yourself or show disrespect for their traditions, values, members of their family, especially their other biological parent. Pick your battles over really serious issues, but stay philosophical about what’s trivial. Over time, you can start to suggest different ways or bring your own values into the mix, but don’t rush it.
5. Give them space. Prior to your arrival the children will have had sole access to their parent, so they may not be comfortable discussing their innermost thoughts with this new person in their parent’s life.
Give them space; let them stay in their rooms if they are sad but don’t want to talk. Find an excuse to leave the house if you realise they want to talk to their biological parent, and don’t assume you are welcome at school counselling sessions or parent-teacher night. Wait to be invited into their space, their friends and their hearts.
6. Be prepared to roll with the punches. Young people can be very cruel with their words, especially when said at a time of high emotion! Here the thick skin is needed. Don Miguel Ruiz in his four agreements stresses that Agreement #3 is ‘Don’t take it personally’. Never a truer word said than in the relationship between step-parents and their step-children. If the child is being personal, then be the adult and gently but firmly explain why their behaviour is unacceptable.
7. While the children are away, discuss rules, discipline and conflicts with them with your partner. Where you need to discuss the relationship and the interaction between your partner, yourself and the stepchildren, make sure you do this out of their earshot. Either talk when they are away or you are out together without the children. Children have innate sense when you are talking about them or something that impacts them. They have an uncanny way of appearing at the wrong moment, or listening in and can miss the essence of the discussion. If you find yourself getting into an argument with your partner about the subject, this will only cause more issues.
8. Avoid overcompensation. Overcompensation can come in many forms, financial, physical, verbal or just plain spoiling them. Also, if you have your own children, over compensating or treating your step children differently will lead to problems in your own part of the family. Always treat them with kindness, love, care and respect. Allowing them to have their own way or letting them get away with unacceptable behaviour will only lead to more problems later.
9. Do not snipe at ‘the other’ biological parent. Always hold your tongue when it comes to the other biological parent. Having an opinion, making side remarks, negative comments or criticising them is the fastest way to take a giant step back in your relationship with your new family, no matter how accurate you are. Just remember, the same won’t happen in reverse, so be prepared for some nastiness as chances are they will see you as their replacement, both in your partner and their children’s lives.
10. Let the children decide how you fit into their lives. Let the children take the lead, your job is to build the trust, be sensitive and to be the adult. Think of what relationship you would like to have with them (friend or sister aren’t the best ones), maybe similar to a favourite aunt, a trusted advisor or mentor are some of good ones. Also, don’t try to get them to call you Mum or Dad, they may do one day but that has to be their decision, even if they are very young now and it seems logical.
This article was inspired by http://www.wikihow.com/Interact-With-the-Children-of-a-New-Partner‘. Whilst the 10 Must Do’s are the same, the content under each is from my own experience, research and above all learnings.
Author and experienced relationship coach, Gillian Andale is the owner of Love2Last, a coaching and resource centre dedicated to couples who have found love again, want a new beginning and aim to strengthen and grow their relationship as well as need help in blended family situations. Visit www.love2last.co to browse and see the wealth of information available.