Help! The new love of my life already has children!
The new love of your life is a single parent who may be divorced, widowed or separated; and you’re thinking of having blended family. You are now wondering what to do so that your second marriage will become harmonious as you wish to form a lasting and loving relationship with his or her children, and the blended families.
So what are the 10 ‘must dos’, well they are:
1. Honestly check your commitment and understand the consequences of your choices.
Will you be capable of taking on a ‘ready-made’ family? Do your lifestyle, character, profession, well being and morals fit with the duties and time that children need? Are you ‘tough skinned’ enough for the queries, remarks and undesirable stories that people who have influence over the kids may cause them to believe?
Above all though, are you ready to commit to their parent? In all possibility, they will already have undergone a lot of pain, so if you are not willing to be involved, think very carefully before they become too close to you and then their hearts would be broken again.
2. Present yourself slowly.
Your partner’s kids may be used to having him or her to themselves, so when you, a stranger comes around all the time, they may get confused. If they are adolescents, they may look at you with suspicion and be protective of their parent or jealous that you are taking him or her away (in their eyes). Your regular presence can cause a sudden big change so you have to be act carefully. Definitely, you don’t just ‘move in’, even if the kids are very young. Begin by joining your partner on the occasional outing, don’t be over familiar with them, or your partner (even the thing about whether you will hold hands in front of them at first), and most of all take time to build a rapport with them, showing genuine interest in who they are and what they are interested in. Let them get to know you, as you get to know them.
3. Be honest about who you are.
You can introduce yourself as their parent’s friend in the beginning but never lie to the children as this will build distrust at all levels. Let them know (gently) that you and their parent go out on dates and care for each other.
4. Blend into the family’s lifestyle.
The name ‘Blended’ family stands for a reason. You cannot just barge in and suggest or make too many changes, demands or new rules. You have to learn first how the family works together, as they operated fine before you got there. Be sensitive; creating aversion is going to set you back a long way. Most disputes occur accidentally or without malice; still it takes a long time to recover from them. As much as possible never disagree with your new partner in front of his or her children nor punish them yourself or show disrespect for their traditions, values, and member of their family, especially their other biological parent. You can pick your clashes over really severe matters but keep your ethics tacked in. Over time you can start to suggest different ways, or bring your own values into the mix, but don’t rush it.
5. Give them space.
Before you came, the kids will have had sole access to their parent so they may not be comfortable discussing their inner most thoughts with a new person in their parent’s life. Provide them space, let them stay in their rooms if they are sad but don’t want to talk, find an excuse to leave the house if you realize they want to talk to their biological parent, and don’t assume you are welcome at school counseling sessions or parent/teacher night. Wait to be invited into their space, their friends and their hearts.
6. Be willing to roll with the punches.
Young people can be very cruel with their words, especially when said at a time of emotion! Here the thick skin is needed. Don Miguel Ruiz in his four agreements stresses that Agreement #3 ‘Don’t take it personally’, is never a truer word said, than in the relationship between step-parents and their step-children. If the child is being personal, then be the adult and gently, but firmly explain why their behavior is unacceptable.
7. Discuss rules, correction and fights with them with your partner while the kids are away.
Where you need to discuss the relationship and the interaction between your partner, yourself and the stepchildren, make sure you do this out of their earshot. Either talk when they are away or you are out together without them. Children have an innate sense when you are talking about them or something that impacts them. They have an uncanny way of appearing at the wrong moment, or listening in and can miss the essence of the discussion. If you find yourself getting into an argument with your partner about the subject, this will only cause more issues.
8. Prevent overcompensation.
Overcompensation can come in many forms, financial, physical, verbal or just plain spoiling them. Also, if you have your own children, over compensating or treating your step children differently will lead to problems in your own part of the family. Always treat them with kindness, love, care and respect. Allowing them to have their own way or letting them get away with unacceptable behavior will only lead to problems later.
9. Do not criticize ‘the other’ biological parent.
Always hold your tongue when it comes to the other biological parent. Having an opinion, making snide remarks, negative comments or criticizing them is the fastest way to take a giant step back in your relationship with your new family. Just remember, the same won’t happen in reverse, so be prepared for some nastiness as chances are they will see you as their replacement, both in your partner and their children’s lives.
10. Let the kids decide how you fit into their lives.
Let the children take the lead; your job is to build the trust, be sensitive and to be the adult. Think of what relationship you would like to have with them (friend or sister aren’t the best ones), maybe similar to a favourite aunt, a trusted advisor or mentor are some of good ones. Also, don’t try to get them to call you Mum or Dad, they may do one day but that has to be their decision, even if they are very young now and it seems logical, or they pick it up from their friends.
Working on a second marriage may be perplexing and having blended families can become very difficult if you are not prepared for it.
Author and experienced relationship coach, Gillian Andale is the owner of Love2Last, a coaching and resource centre dedicated to couples who have found love again, want a new beginning and aim to strengthen and grow their relationship as well as need help in blended family situations.
Photo. Vidal Balielo Jr.