Bonus children, FTW!
When it comes to dating for re-singled (a.k.a. divorced) parents, odds are that the people you're dating will have kids of their own, too. Thoughts of entering into a serious relationship or even remarriage gives many re-singled parents cause for pause if not outright alarm because we've all heard the stories about evil stepparents since we were little (thank you, Cinderella!).
But that's not how it has to be! With a bit of work, It's possible to create successful blended families.
My husband and I met online through eHarmony. The picture he used for his profile was an adorable one of him with his youngest son (now my bonus son). When we had our first date, one of the things I asked him about was his kids.
Boy, talk about a conversation killer! He made it clear that he didn't want to talk about them. I laughed a bit when he told me this and told him that he should probably consider changing his profile picture in light of that! Luckily, we found other things to talk about and wound up enjoying our evening.
What I didn't know then was that his first attempt at a blended family didn't turn out well. His refusal to talk about his kids was just his being protective.
Luckily, we've been able to avoid some of the missteps of his first attempt at a blended family. Through some trial and error, we've been able to create a successful blended family.
You can create a successful blended family, too. The number one thing you need to know?
Successful blended families don't "just happen" — they take work and planning.
Before you enter into a serious relationship or remarriage, it's important that you spend some time with your new significant other planning what type of life you'll have together, before you dive into that life.
In addition to planning your dreams of happily ever after, you'll want to agree on parenting styles, discipline styles, and lifestyle (yes, I did say "agree" and not "compromise". Successful blended families require partners to be on the same page in these critical areas.)
Once you've reached agreement, you'll need to consider each of your children, their personalities, and how different these styles of parenting, discipline, and living are from the way you're currently doing them.
Will the changes be large or small for each child? The smaller the changes, the more easily the child will be able to adapt. If the changes are large, you'll want to consider making the changes gradually before blending your families full-time so each child will have the fewest obstacles to overcome in making the blended family a success for them, too.
No matter how carefully you plan or how easy you try to make the transition, it's really normal for the kids to have different plans. These different plans are usually based on confusion and fear. It's also normal for kids to feel jealous of their bonus family members. And it's fairly typical for kids to feel angry about your remarriage because it messes up their dream of Mom and Dad getting back together again.
The five best things you can do to help all the kids involved are:
- Be clear about expectations and boundaries
- Communicate regularly as a family about family issues and with each child about what they're feeling and what's going on in their lives
- Let each child know you support them in loving their birth parent and that your new spouse is their bonus parent
- Take time every day to spend time one-on-one with each of your children and offer the same to each of your bonus kids
- Do fun things as a family
For most re-singled parents, their kids are a top priority, but successful blended families aren't built on being great parents and making the kids happy. Successful blended families are built on marital bliss!
The one thing that can help the most with all this is getting the kids on the same custody schedule as much as possible. That way you can regularly have kid-free weekends to focus on each other, connect, and strengthen your marriage without the demands of parenting. It's from this base of a strong marriage that the success of your blended marriage must be built.
Creating successful blended families does take planning and the best plans include heaping helpings of communication, respect, commitment, and patience.
Try this Functional Divorce Assignment to get your planning off on the right foot:
- Spend some time dreaming together about what you want your life together to be like. Make your dreams as specific as possible. By being specific about your dreams, you'll both know when you're on-course and when you drift off-course so you can correct things more quickly.
- Talk about your parenting styles, discipline styles and lifestyles. Be completely honest here. I know one couple who didn't have completely honest conversations about parenting and discipline styles before they got married. The result was that the first time the new wife saw her new husband's parenting style and non-existent discipline style with his child she told him that she wouldn't have married him if she had know this before-hand. Luckily, they've been able to work it out, but it would have been so much easier to do before they blended their families.
- Consider each child's potential reaction to having a bonus family. Each child has their own personality and will react differently to having a bonus family. By working together you and your new spouse can help to make the transition into your blended family be easier for each child.
Dr. Karen Finn is a divorce coach and advisor helping people who are considering divorce make a smart decision about staying or leaving their marriage. You can join her anonymous newsletter group for free advice or email her at Karen@functionaldivorce.com for a free consultation. Don’t let the worry about divorce ruin your life, help is available as soon as you’re ready.