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Tips for making blended families work

The Star

by Nichole Hacha-Thomas

Thursday, April 14, 2011

You’re a divorced, single parent and have finally met someone wonderful. You’re thrilled to have a new love in your life, but aren’t sure how your children will react when you announce the plan to remarry.

As current and past counselors at JE Ober Elementary School in Garrett, Ann Haworth and Ethel Yoder have worked with many children whose parents have divorced. They agree that divorce is probably the most difficult and long lasting issue for many kids to deal with.

“The child’s entire world changes, and the impact is felt in different ways as the child ages,” Yoder said.

“Not only does a child of divorce miss the parent they no longer live with, she’s often expected to accept and bond with a new ‘parent’ and possibly new brothers and sisters,” Haworth added. Facing this possibility, children may experience a variety of emotions including jealousy, guilt, grief and fear.

Being sensitive to the child’s needs at this time is crucial to the success of the new blended family. How well the child adapts to the new family may depend upon his age, how long his parents have been apart and how they get along now, and how long he’s known the new partner. Your child’s adjustment also depends on how the adults approach this life changing event.

So, what can parents do to help their children at this time? For parents who are considering remarriage or living together, keep these tips in mind:

  1. Be sincere and go slowly. Don’t rush into marriage and combining families until you’ve given the children time to get used to the idea. Don’t assume that they’ll be as thrilled about this new relationship as you are.
  2. Talk about the issues of discipline, household routines and responsibilities with your new partner before moving in together. Counseling can also help the couple deal with these issues.
  3. Establish a clear set of ground rules for all children in your household. These rules should be clearly communicated to the children and will vary depending upon their ages, but should be enforced as equally and consistently as possible.
  4. Don’t spy on your ex through the children, or badmouth your ex in front of them. This behavior puts your children in a tough position and can cause resentment.
  5. Don’t use your children as messengers. Communicate directly with your ex. If this is difficult in person, there are always online custody calendars and email.
  6. Don’t expect the children to share everything. All kids need their own space and belongings. As much as possible, make sure that each child has her own bed when in your home along with space for her own things.
  7. Start your own blended family traditions. Focus on finding things to do that you can enjoy together as a family, and ask the kids for input and feedback on this.
  8. Keep in mind that children may want time alone with the parent they don’t see as often. Respect that need.
  9. Model kindness, respect and courtesy in your relationships with your spouse, ex and all of the children involved, and insist that your children do the same. As a parent, you cannot make the kids love each other or your new spouse, but you can expect that they will treat each other civilly.

Being part of a new, blended family can be rewarding and wonderful for children. The new family can be a source of even more support, encouragement and love for them. As the parent, you can help make that happen by considering their needs above your own.

Learning Link, launched in 2009, is an initiative of the DeKalb County Community Foundation that helps link people and organizations providing learning opportunities for children and adults and align their educational goals. This series, “What’s in your parenting toolbox?” is written by the Adult Lifelong Learning team which encourages adults to improve themselves, their families and their community through continuous learning.