Second Marriage: 5 Tips for a Successful Blended Family
Written by: Megan Dell
Second marriages, a blended family, with stepchildren can be an incredible source of joy. If your upcoming second marriage involves becoming a blended family, you are probably excited about welcoming new family members, especially stepchildren, into your life. However, you might also have anxieties about how to make a second marriage with stepchildren work, what effects becoming a new family will have on your children and stepchildren, and how a second marriage with stepchildren will affect the relationship you currently share with your partner, soon-to-be spouse.
What Is A Blended Family?
In the most simple terms, blended families consist of a couple and their children from their current and all previous marriages or previous relationships. New families may include biological parents, biological children, adopted children, step-siblings, and half-siblings. Sometimes a blended family includes adult stepchildren.
Blended Family Challenges
A blended family can only exist if at least one earlier relationship or previous marriage — and family unit — ended. One child may have lived with married parents until the death of one parent, and now, their living parent has found a new romantic partner. Or, previous relationships have ended, and children are expected to embrace a new step-parent after a second marriage.
When you combine two families, different parental habits and behavior can cause challenges and cause frustration for your child to deal with. In blended families, there may be kids with birthdays closer together than possible with biologically related siblings. Sometimes, stepparents can be just a couple of years younger than the eldest child. The stepparent may have never been a parent, or the adults have different parenting styles. It can be difficult for children to welcome new siblings.
Successful Blended Families Exist
Frequent concerns about second marriages with stepchildren include how your children will react to becoming part of a blended family and how you and your partner will make parenting decisions as a couple and separately. We won’t sugarcoat it: blended family dynamics can take some getting used to, and stepfamily issues do crop up. But successful blended families not only exist, they are also more prevalent than you might think.
How to Make a Marriage Work with Stepchildren
With this in mind, below are some suggestions for solving blended family problems that can arise in a second marriage with stepchildren and how to have a successful second marriage so you can create the new family you have always envisioned.
1. Blended Family: Setting Realistic Expectations.
A successful blended family is one whose members have realistic expectations. That is not to say stepfamily issues will necessarily consume your family life for the foreseeable future. Not at all. But blended family issues are usually part of the deal from time to time when it comes to blending families with young adults or children, which is why it can help to go into the situation not expecting too much too fast.
You might, for example, be eager for your children to get along with your new partner or their children right away, but this is unrealistic. It takes time to get to know someone. Pushing too hard might create stepfamily issues in your blended family and have the opposite effect: preventing a healthy relationship between new family members from growing organically. It can take years to fully adjust to being part of a blended family. Especially if the members of your blended family have trouble adjusting to new relationships or you run into other problems, such as perceived favoritism from one parent toward a specific child over another or a child’s failure to respect family rules, it is important to keep expectations in check to have the best chance at achieving harmony in your household down the road.
To minimize the negative psychological effects of blended families on children, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry suggests supporting the creation of strong bonds through various means, such as acknowledging changes in the family structure. This can include recognizing losses due to divorce or death. It can also be done by protecting and nurturing the existing parent-child relationship and recognizing variations between family members’ lifestyles.
Successful blended families result from organically grown bonds, which evolve over time. By maintaining realistic expectations about the nature of these connections and the timeline for them developing beginning when you first commit to becoming a blended family, you can create an environment conducive to one day building a happy, stable, and secure second marriage with stepchildren and homelife.
Successful blended families aren’t characterized by partners who come to a second marriage with a mindset of how to survive stepchildren. Instead, they earn their title when both partners want to know how to make a marriage work with stepchildren and commit wholly to the process.
2. Be understanding and respectful of Everyone in the Blended Family
When blending families with young adults or children, it is critical for avoiding or curtailing family issues to listen to any concerns from them, your partner, and your partner’s children. As blended family problems arise, you should do your best to understand family members’ concerns first and foremost by being respectful. Doing so entails listening intently, then asking questions. Learn about their emotions, history, and potential worries or stresses about being part of a blended family and address them accordingly.
Your children, for instance, might have anxiety about potential changes in their relationship with their other parent, given the establishment of a stepparent relationship with your new partner. They may also struggle with sibling rivalry with new step-siblings. Your partner’s children may struggle to accept you in a parenting role, which can make establishing positive relationships with your stepchildren difficult.
Though you might feel differently or not share the same feelings or perspective, it is crucial to acknowledge their emotions and recognize that each person in a blended family needs to be understood and feel heard for a strong familial bond to form and old ones not to become compromised. Not doing so can result in prolonged tension, which can worsen matters in the long run, possibly by creating additional blended family issues that will need addressing.
If blended family problems persist, consider taking affirmative steps to address them. We suggest speaking to a neutral third party, such as a family therapist specializing in blending families with young adults or children or someone from a local community organization. Family therapy can both be in a group setting and an individual setting. Another possible solution is to organize more family activities where new family members can get to know one another in a fun environment. Regardless of the circumstances, treat every family member respectfully, giving them the same understanding you expect.
3. Prioritize open communication with your children and stepchildren.
One of the most effective strategies you can implement in a second marriage with stepchildren is for you and your partner to be communicative and open with your children, stepchildren, and each other. When blending families with young adults or children, some issues are better left private, such as sensitive financial information or topics of an intimate nature. Apart from that, engaging in conversation regularly and meaningfully as a group and one-on-one can build rapport among you.
How successful blended families engage can vary. Some successful blended families might like holding family meetings once a week or month where everyone – parents and children alike – can share the positives and negatives of their recent experiences, from family dynamics to school, hobbies, and favorite pastimes. Other successful blended families might prefer chatting with their and their partner’s children individually, especially if some tension exists between certain family members.
Adults and children might benefit from books on the topic as long as they are age-appropriate for children. Regardless of different ages or how a conversation starts, giving every family member a voice, addressing their concerns, and reinforcing positive attitudes are essential for blending families with young adults or children and avoiding unnecessary blended family problems.
Additionally, to ensure these conversations are relaxed and welcoming, allow whoever is talking to talk freely, without time constraints and fear of negative repercussions. Again, listen with an empathetic ear. You can only address and solve the unique problems that can come with a second marriage with stepchildren if you commit wholeheartedly to doing so. The process begins by becoming a skilled communicator, one equally skilled in listening.
4. Successful Blended Families Set Clear Boundaries
Though the primary goal when embarking on a second marriage with stepchildren is to blend your families, a blended family still functions best with clearly delineated boundaries. Perhaps there are a handful of conversations that you only want yourself and your children’s other parent to have. There most likely are specific activities you would like designated just for yourself and their other parent. Maybe there is a holiday tradition that your children enjoy doing with just you or their other parent. Maybe your stepchildren prefer that your partner tucks them into bed each night, or your partner wants to be the sole discipliner of their children.
Regardless of the boundary, communicating them to family members is critical. Demonstrating honor and mutual respect for everyone’s wishes is similarly essential in limiting future blended family issues. In terms of establishing parenting boundaries, you should discuss those with your partner first and include your children and stepchildren in the conversation once you have done so. There might be issues neither of you think they are worried about, so bringing the children into the mix can be beneficial.
Showing that you will respect your stepchildren’s boundaries – or that your partner will respect your children’s – makes for successful blended families, especially when blending families with young adults or children. Failing to set and enforce these boundaries can only lead to future stepfamily issues
Remember that these boundaries can move over time; maybe a once-reserved holiday tradition will open up to the whole family in the future. Until, and if, that happens, however, such boundaries should remain fixed. Honoring established boundaries can give agency to children, you, and your partner, making a potentially anxiety-inducing or stressful situation more manageable and comfortable.
5. Think of Yourselves as a Family Team
Though you come from at least two distinct family units, think of your new blended family as a completely new family structure: a team. A second marriage with stepchildren is only as successful as it is cooperative and collaborative. Seeing yourself as a team player rather than someone trying to singularly accomplish the goal of blending families with young adults or children emphasizes that all family members should be heard and acknowledged. It won’t be easy, but a hallmark of successful blended families is that family members work together to make everyone feel like they are a part of the family.
A successful blended family requires that everyone work together with each other’s needs and wishes in mind. Creating a team environment entails modeling healthy behavior and making some parenting decisions with your partner and some as a family, all with your children’s best interests in mind. It can also mean allowing children to set the pace for how their family relationships develop.
Many blended families benefit from establishing new family traditions, approaching problem-solving as a unit, and making necessary adjustments to daily schedules.
Final Thoughts on Blended Family Problems
Entering a second marriage with stepchildren signals change for everyone involved. Unfortunately, there is no handbook for how to survive stepchildren’s challenges and thrive as a family unit. Though stepfamily issues often arise at the beginning of second marriages with stepchildren and can occur periodically as time goes on, with the implementation of the above tips, along with time and dedication, your new family can grow to be a source of great happiness for years to come.