My husband and I both have kids from previous marriages, and blending our families has been hard. We fight all the time, usually about his kids not getting along with my kids, his kids wrecking things, me not treating his kids good enough, or him spending too much time with his ex and her family. (I think he spends an abnormal amount of time with them.) I don’t know how to handle any of these issues, and they are tearing us apart. Can you offer some advice?
Blending families is a really difficult endeavor and not for the faint of heart. I know — I am in a second marriage situation with kids myself, so I speak from experience.
There is a reason that 70 percent of second marriages fail, and the odds are even worse when children are involved. Making a step-family work is a huge challenge, but you can significantly improve your odds of making it if you get some help, plan ahead, and get educated so your expectations are realistic.
Studies have shown that 80 percent of couples entering a second marriage do nothing up front to prepare themselves for the complexities of the challenge. They think their love should be enough to get them through the difficulties.
Let me set the record straight right now: It isn’t.
You must get educated about step-families if you are going to make it. I highly recommend getting some books about step-families, attending seminars and classes, or getting some professional help to work through the challenging issues. Things will go much smoother when you know what you are doing and have a plan to deal with the challenges.
Here are some other tips that may help:
Improve your communication skills. This is the most important thing you must do.You must learn to have mutually validating conversations with your spouse and have them often. Couples who know how to communicate with respect, in a loving way, can solve almost any problem. There is an article I wrote for KSL.com that will help you understand what that looks like. Click on the link to read it.
If you are unhappy with how much time your husband spends with his ex and her family, you need to talk about it and figure out what amount of time you would feel comfortable with. If you still can’t reach a compromise on this issue (and the many other issues that cause the fighting), you may need some professional help with your relationship skills.
Make the house rules, as a couple, ahead of time. You must be a united front and decide on rules, consequences, job sharing, conflict resolution and responsibilities ahead of time. Successful step-parents are always united on decisions and discuss their disagreements in private. They are a cohesive team in front of the children, so it is clear they cannot be played off each other.
Couples should decide on the rules together, but the natural parent should be the one to dish out the discipline to their child. If the natural parent isn’t present, the step-parent can remind the child of the house rules and the consequences in a very loving and calm manner. If you can't speak to your step-children with kindness and respect, you need to get some help to change this.
Children deserve respect, understanding and kindness even when they mis-behave. If you treat children this way, they will respect you back. If you behave immaturely, lose control, yell and berate children, they will lose respect for you.
Give everyone some time to learn how to handle this complex situation. Your spouse has never been a step-parent before and neither have you, so you both need some time to figure this out. You must be patient and not expect your spouse to have all the answers and do everything right, right away.
Don’t rush the process of blending. Everyone needs time to get used to this new way of life. You must let each child set the pace for how close they want to be to the new step-parent and when. Don’t worry if they pull back at times; they are fighting a battle of loyalties that often confuses them. Don’t take their moving slow personally. It takes years to build strong relationships of trust.
Make sure you treat all the children the same. Feeling cheated, short-changed or left out is a common problem in step-families. Make things fair and the same, as much as possible.
Insist on mutual respect for everyone. Not everyone has to like each other, but they do have to respect each other. If you are going to make your step-family work, children must respect the adults in the home, and the adults must respect the children. This means listening to their thoughts and feelings and respecting their right to feel the way they do. Respect must happen in every interaction.
This will not be an easy road. It will test your love and patience on a daily basis, but you can do it, if you are both committed and open to getting some help.
There are many other great articles about step-family dynamics on KSL.com. Check some of them out:
Step-families: The odds are against us
Committed couples can make step-families work
Tips for making a blended family work
Many families underestimate the difficulty of remarriage
LIFEadvice: Dealing with a difficult ex-spouse
Kimberly Giles is the founder and president of ldslifecoaching.com and claritypointcoaching.com. She is a sought after life coach and popular speaker who specializes in repairing and building self-esteem.
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Kimberly Giles is the president and founder of Claritypoint Life Coaching and 12 SHAPES INC. She is an author and professional speaker. She was named one of the top 20 advice gurus in the country by Good Morning America in 2010. She appears regularly on local and national TV and Radio.