The idea of family has expanded in recent years to include step-parents and step-children, foster children, single parents, and extended families living together. This enlarged definition of family can make for a richer, more meaningful experience, as well as provide the nurture and support children need to thrive. However, family relationships are almost always complicated, and blended families are no exception.
We explore ideas for strengthening family ties, particularly in blended families, as defined as "a family consisting of a couple and their children from this and all previous relationships" (Merriam Webster.com). Many of these tips, however, are also appropriate for all families, regardless of circumstance.
Parenting Tips for Building Strong Family Relationships
- Nurture your relationship. Most couples spend their initial months or years together building a strong foundation for their relationship. In a blended family, with children already a part of your home, you'll need to find creative ways to do this while caring for the children. Schedule time to relax together, as well as weekly meetings to go over schedules, finances, parenting, and any other issues. Happy parents make happy children, so don’t neglect your relationship, which is the heart of your family. Be sure to spend time nurturing yourself, as well.
- Establish house rules. Children need to know that they are safe, that an adult is in charge, and that everything will be okay. Talk to your children about your new and different family structure. Sit down as a family and establish simple rules for how you’ll communicate and how you’ll treat each other. Discuss your priorities and goals. Let your children know that, while you and your partner need time and flexibility to figure everything out, you will figure it out.
- Build trust. The bond between parent and child forms over many years. While taking the time to develop these family relationships in your blended family, observe your children and follow their cues. Give children space when they push away, but also actively look for ways to build trust. Take an interest in the children’s hobbies. Attend their concerts, sporting events, and other extracurricular activities. Play board games, read together, or help them with homework. Spend time alone with your own children and encourage your partner to do the same. Take a light-handed approach to disciplining stepchildren, deferring to your partner’s judgment whenever possible.
- Solve problems together. Conflict is an inevitable part of family life, but try to remember that it can also serve as a valuable learning experience. Expect conflicts as children adjust to each other and to sharing their lives. Listen to their challenges and help them find solutions. For example, children sharing a bedroom for the first time are bound to have conflicts over shared space. Help them define boundaries and expectations and develop solutions to storage issues.
- Set a good example. Blended families generally go through an adjustment period that can take between two to four years, according to the American Psychological Association. You and your partner play a critical role in guiding your children through this transition. Remember, you are the leaders in your home, and your children will follow you. Show patience and self-discipline. Speak kindly and communicate fairly. Apologize and make amends when you make mistakes. Don’t speak badly about your ex-partner; avoid making critical comments about how your ex-partner parents, especially in front of your children.
As you work together to build family unity, understand that this process takes time and patience. On the other hand, don’t ignore serious issues. Identify these challenges and look for solutions. Talk with your doctor, teachers, or other trusted professionals and seek out resources in your community.
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