The Brady Bunch made it look easy. A mom with three children, a dad with the same. A few arguments happened over space and bathroom time, but none of these arguments kept them from coming together at the dinner table every day for a happy meal together.
If only it could be that easy. Unfortunately, making a blended family work is hard, but well worth it in the end.
As a parent, introducing your children to a new love interest can be intimidating. Your new love interest and your child might not get along. Your child might even reject their new step-parent altogether. These legitimate fears don’t go away when you get married. Your new spouse is your child’s new parent, and that’s a whole different ball game. Not only do you have to allow your new spouse to parent your child, but your child has to adjust to having someone else guide, advise, and discipline them.
Oftentimes this can cause discord and resentment from your child, towards both you and their new step-parent. It is your job to encourage a healthy relationship between the two. You will be an integral piece to help both your child and new spouse understand one another. It is crucial that you get your child to see that having a step-parent who loves and cares for them is a blessing, not a burden.
So how exactly can you help nurture a positive relationship between the people who mean the most to you? Here are a few suggestions on how to do just that:
Helping your child bond with their step-parent:
Implement a Family Routine
Children thrive by creating a stable home that is centered on a routine. This is especially true for children who may be feeling unsure of this new chapter in their lives. Adjusting to an unfamiliar parent and even step-siblings in their home and a new family dynamic is hard. You should be sure to be there for your child to lean on if anything becomes too overbearing for them. A good place to start is by creating routines with the entire new family you have married into that includes your child.
This can help your child to bond and grow closer with their step-siblings and step-parent. Creating new routines on top of work, school, and shared time with your child’s other parent can be hard to manage. Make sure to break down the routines you create in small and digestible chunks. You can work some small, consistent things into your week, such as:
- Family game night Fridays
- Sunday morning breakfast
- Taking a walk after dinner
An additional idea is to have your family members be responsible for cooking dinner together one night a week. For example, you and your child can cook dinner together one night, you and your spouse another, and leave one night a week for your new spouse and child to prepare a meal together. Having them spend time together while doing an activity that requires focus may help to dissolve any awkwardness and encourage a natural flow of conversation between the two.
It is natural for children to feel like they are “losing” their parent when they get remarried. For many kids, it has just been them and you for a long time. Having to share their time with you can cause anger and resentment to boil under the surface. In addition to scheduling family time, it is equally important for you to create space and time for you and your child to be alone together. They need to know that having a step parent will not affect their relationship with you.
Even with a busy schedule, find time for just the two of you. You can go to a movie, pick them up from school to get ice cream with them or have lunch together. These are all ways to stay close with your child. Creating one-on-one time will make your children feel comfortable that their relationship with you hasn’t changed. This can also help minimize any resentment they feel towards their step-parent for taking their time away from you.
Fill in the “Gaps”
Your bond is strong with your child because you have been together for a long time. You have endless memories, funny stories, heartbreaks, and trials that you’ve faced together. You are bonded through blood, history, and experience. Your new spouse has also lived their own life that has encompassed the same ups and downs that you have.
You should ask your spouse to set aside time with your child to share some of their history and upbringing. This can help your child understand their new step-parent. It can also help them bond over similarities they have that they didn’t previously know about. Negating some of the complex role definitions and structure that impede forming a healthy bond between your child and spouse is important. This may also help decrease your spouse’s feeling of being an “outsider”, which can occur when blended families come together.
Family time is great. Alone time with your child is crucial. But time between your child and spouse is imperative to develop their own relationship. Find something that both your new mate and child can enjoy. Do they both like basketball? Do they both swear they’re the GOAT at mini-golf? Find an activity they can do together that is both fun and allows them to bond. Bowling, laser tag, or attending a sporting event are all things that your child and your new spouse can bond over without any added pressure.
If they aren’t ready for alone time yet, or if your child is struggling to form a bond with their new parent, you might want to consider taking the family bowling. Making a low-stakes bet on whether you can beat your new spouse and child with a prize for the winner might be a good ice-breaker for your child and new spouse. Winning the bet isn’t as important as coming up with good excuses to spend time with your spouse and child synonymously.
All in all, remember that everyone in your family wants to be happy. Blended families, like any family, goes through an adjustment period. Encourage your spouse to be the adult and reach out to your child even if they don’t seem willing to spend time with your spouse. Be sure that your child knows that their new step-parent isn’t there to take away anything from their lives. They are only there to add value, love, and stability. Patience is the name of the game as bonding takes commitment and time. With a little patience and effort, your blended family will be filled with new experience, new memories, and a lot of love in no time.
Carrie S. Schultz, Esq. is certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a Matrimonial Law Attorney. She is committed to providing family law legal services for fathers who are seeking sole or joint custody of their children during divorce proceedings.