In traditional family structures, the couple gets to establish their relationships first. Blended families don’t have that luxury, and some tensions can arise when juggling a whole heap of expectations and uncertainties. While blended families can be tricky to navigate, establishing a healthy family dynamic is more than achievable with the right strategies.
It’s important to shed the idea that you need to pick out a singular priority – be mindful and considerate of what everyone needs. Talk to your partner about what your expectations are for living arrangements, disciplinary styles, etc. Leave room to compromise and negotiate. Never set ultimatums, and handle any conflicts with compassion and open communication.
While it might seem best to just focus on your child – they’re the party most dependent on you, after all – don’t discount your own capabilities to care and love. Traditional families can get away with spreading the love, and the main thing preventing that here is usually anxiety.
Do: Be Mindful Of Everyone’s Needs
While your child is more dependent on you, your partner deserves to be treated as more than just an afterthought. Giving them secondary priority would be disrespectful to them and your relationship, even if it might feel “right” to do as a responsible parent.
It’s easy to give in to the pressure of having been a single parent, but don’t let those fears push you towards overcompensatory behavior: it won’t help anyone, I promise. Also, you’re in a blended family now – leave those single-parent thoughts at the door.
Balance comes from realizing you shouldn’t neglect one for the sake of the other. How you treat your partner serves as behavioral modeling for both of your children, so you want to set a healthy example for them to learn from.
That said, the urgency of some needs is genuinely different from others. For example, your partner can probably handle you not packing them lunch, but that’ll be a bigger issue for your kids who don’t have the means to deal with it. Treat them with equity, not equality – meet what they need most at the moment, but don’t let anyone go neglected.
If your partner is disciplining them in a way you don’t agree with, make that known while supporting your child. That said, if your partner is being blatantly disrespected by your child, you can’t support them solely because they’re your claimed main priority – your child’s wants should never supersede your partner’s needs or dignity.
Don’t: Assume You Have To Pick Out A Single Priority
It’s not a competition to decide who you love more. If love was that restrictive, no one would bother living with their families at all! There will come situations where someone must have their needs met before others, and the balancing act comes from knowing when to prioritize them, not if you should prioritize them.
If your partner is the one prioritizing their children over you, try to understand their situation. They’re not actively trying to neglect you – it’s a product of anxiety and circumstance. If you are feeling a bit distant or left out, be sure to tell them. You could also try to help out a bit more actively on minding the children – doing this is bound to free up some time from their schedules!
Do: Discuss Your Planned Arrangement With Your Partner
Healthy family dynamics don’t just conveniently slot into place. They need time, respect, and communication – this goes doubly so for blended families. Everyone’s bringing their own anxieties to the table. Even if it’s difficult, you need to sort through them together.
A common issue is disciplinary methods. You may not approve of how your partner handles your children – they might be too enabling or too restrictive for your taste. Discussing that with them is the best way to ensure you don’t get caught off guard by that. It also has the bonus of avoiding situations you’d end up undermining their authority in front of the children.
How will the chores be allotted? How will you handle your finances? Who will take point when your children’s rebellious phases inevitably come up? You need to involve them in the process so both of you don’t end up caught off-guard by these concerns.
The two of you also need to be united in whatever decision you make – at least in front of your children. Even if you love your partner, you’re almost certainly going to be pre-disposed towards supporting your flesh-and-blood child over them. The same thought has likely crossed their minds. What more for the children? They’ll end up supporting their biological parent because of that familiarity, and the last thing you need to bring to a blended family is another means for alienation.
Don’t: Set Ultimatums
Never, under any circumstances, should you pit your partner against your children. Things will never go well even if the conflict gets resolved. Blended families practically run off compromise, so putting yourself in situations where “It’s me or the kids” will invariably ruin things in the long run. Also, is that really the kind of selfish behavior you want your children to pick up on?
If your partner starts doing this, gently let them know why that’s not acceptable. If they continue to do so regardless, it might be worth cutting your losses with them.
However, children can also do this. If they end up putting you or your partner in these situations, keep a level head. It’s extremely unlikely your child can follow through on that threat, so don’t react impulsively out of fear of losing them.
Instead, troubleshoot what thoughts put them in a position to make those demands. Give them the benefit of the doubt, and sort through it as a family – alongside your partner.
Do: Handle Emerging Conflicts Promptly
Conflicts will emerge through your time together as a family, but it’s not something you ought to fear. If you think about it, conflicts bring issues to the forefront for everyone to address. They’re a crucial part of the communication process and save everyone a lot of heartache in the long run.
Handle these conflicts as fairly as possible, and don’t ever hold sentiments shared against one another. Doing this disincentivizes further openness, and a blatant problem is far easier to address than one that goes undisclosed.
The main rule for smooth conflict resolution is this: all problems are valid.
Even if you can’t understand why someone is upset, you can always recognize if they are. You might see them as exaggerated or overly-sensitive, but that won’t detract from how they feel about whatever it is that’s frustrating them. Respecting how they feel will go a very long way in easing your blended family towards a more comfortable shared dynamic.
Don’t: Mistake Avoidance For Conflict Resolution
A quiet household doesn’t necessarily translate into a content one. Choosing not to discuss problems doesn’t mean the problems magically fade away – they’re just below the surface, ready to spring up and blindside your entire blended family.
Conflicts are best handled in open environments with mutual respect from both parties. Any goodwill in the family will end up rotting away if you leave problems like that to fester.
Blended families can be difficult to figure out, but they’re far from insurmountable. A healthy dynamic will emerge once you realize love can be shared readily – leave those fears in the past, and work towards cultivating a content, gentle future to share with your blended family.