Relationships can be complicated because as human beings, we are complex. This complexity is heightened by the creation of a new family system. When people remarry after divorce or marry someone who was previously divorced, they find themselves a part of a new family. Challenges are guaranteed, but at the same time, so are love, happiness and hope for the future. We have two people working hard to navigate unchartered waters that can feel taxing, and even treacherous at times.
Over the years, I have helped numerous individuals and families navigate these waters to build a successful family unit. Over the past several months, I, too, have found myself in the same place as those learning to blend into and create a new family. What appears to be a no-brainer when I am sitting in my chair it feels a little different when I'm on the other side. This caught me by surprise. Although I experience great happiness, it has also presented me with some challenges. When a person has lived on their own for any length of time, with or without children, they create a groove; their way of doing things or an ebb and flow to their life that begins to feel seamless. When you add another person (or persons) to the mix, each with their own way of doing things, there are bound to be a few rifts.
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I have found that although it might appear unclear and daunting at times, these challenges are manageable when both people actively work together with a mutual commitment to making this new family work.
There are no hard and fast rules about how to make it all work, and while I don't claim to have it all figured out, these are some of the things I have learned along the way about blending families with success:
1. Remain open and flexible in your thinking as this will help create closeness and build healthy relationships.
2. Build relationships by giving them time. Family members, especially children, are getting to know you just as much as you are getting to know them. Do not rush into creating a relationship; it will have a natural affinity on its own that can be developed.
3. Be kind and loving to yourself. Sometimes this is challenging because we start to feel bad if things are not going in the direction we assumed we would.
4. Create new traditions. Consider everyone's input in order to make each person feel included. Give everyone time to adjust to these new traditions, as well.
5. Nurture the relationship with your spouse or partner. Although allowing everyone to adjust is important, remember to remain focused on nurturing your relationship. Having a strong foundation in your relationship will help you work through the challenges that can often arise.
6. It takes time for families to bond and figure out how the new family will work and function together. The roles will change which will create a new dynamic.
7. Connecting with one another doesn't have to be a daunting task. Go for a walk, read a book or often to drop them at the mall. These are the kinds of things that provide time to nurture the relationship without going overkill.
8. Research demonstrates that the best thing to do is look at the blended family as a family within a family, and that you and your kids need your own time together. Work hard to honor this. This is will help with the transition. Respecting and cherishing the original family may help everyone become more accepting of the new family.
9. Don't fall for some of the myths:
- That it's easy and kids will adjust.
- You don't have to put the time in to it. If it doesn't blend well, there is no hope.
- Love occurs naturally between stepchild/parent.
- Children of divorce are damaged forever.
- Kids will be happy about the remarriage.
- You will not make the same blunders as before.
- Blended families function just like traditional families.
Remember, building relationships is a process. Give it the time, attention and love that it needs and deserves.
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