Last month’s column was the first of two on blended families, which are families in which one or both spouses bring children from a previous relationship. Dr. Kristin Davin, a clinical psychologist in Manhattan, explained that blending families takes time and patience, the primacy of the spousal relationship, the advisability of family meetings, and more. Here, we continue with that discussion.
Adults and children should know that there will be ups and downs during the years that the blending process continues.
“People get over some hurdles, and think the challenges are over, but there are likely to be new ones,” Davin said.
For instance, children have different developmental stages — a challenge that exists in “intact” families as well. If parents have talked over how they’re going to handle the different stages, be it the terrible twos or the teenage years, conflict between them is less likely.
Don’t force a relationship
A parent may want everyone in the new family to be happy, push too fast, and pressure a child to quickly and lovingly embrace the new adult in his life. But this will happen on the child’s timetable, not the parent’s. As parents, we would do better to focus on “the times we have spent together with the child that have been comfortable, and then perhaps to do more of that and allow the relationship to develop on its own terms,” says Davin.
Trial, error, and handling errors
Since each family is different, and each member is changing over time, try to remain flexible. Whether your approach (to dealing with household chores, for example) is working well or not, you will probably need to make adjustments at some point. Try a plan that makes sense, and rework it as necessary.
While some errors should never be made — making disparaging remarks about a parent to a child, for instance — every parent will screw up occasionally. When that happens, own up to the mistakes or bad behavior.
“I called your father ‘unreliable.’ I’m sorry I said that, and I’ll try very hard not to do that kind of thing again.”
Are house rules being broken? If so, as parents, try to maintain the same standards of what is expected of the children. Ask yourselves, “Do we have solid reasons for what we are asking of them?” Be consistent in how you treat different children, perhaps giving — and enforcing — the same curfew for kids who are the same age.
A child’s resentment at inconsistent treatment may be magnified in a blended family.
There may be good reasons for inconsistency. When a child says, “I don’t have to do that at Ma’s,” a legitimate response might be, “But this is our home that we’ve established, and the traditions and choices we’re making.”
Is my child alright?
“Kids’ behaviors fall along a continuum,” Davin said. “The question is ‘are they out of line for their age?’ Teenagers often isolate themselves, and this behavior may be just because of their age. Kids in intact families might behave the same way.”
As parents, we can be apprehensive about talking to our kids. Davin advises, “Just ask them, ‘How do you think things are going?’”
Let kids know you are dealing with some of the struggles they are.
“We’re all experiencing changes and that includes me. It isn’t easy. It’s OK to be missing the old family.”
Davin also suggests that parents talk to teachers to let them know that the child is about to become a member of a blended family.
Did you used to play in the park with your child every Sunday, or have some other special time one-on-one with her or him? Continue with these routines as best you can. Find time for each child, and consider creating new routines for your new and blended family.
New York City- and Long Island-based divorce mediator and collaborative divorce lawyer Lee Chabin, Esq. helps clients end their relationships respectfully and without going to court. Contact him at email@example.com or (718) 229–6149, or go to lc-mediate.com/.
Disclaimer: All material in this column is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.