Blending families after a divorce
How to Successfully Blend Families After a Divorce
With the completion of a divorce often comes a new challenge: blending two families into one. When a parent remarries or forms a new relationship post-divorce, all parties involved—including the former spouses, children, and step-parents—must adjust to a new dynamic. While it’s never an easy task, there are steps you can take to ensure the transition to a blended family is as smooth as possible.
It’s important that everyone in the family understand their role in the new dynamic. Establishing roles and expectations for each family member before problems arise can prevent resentments and misunderstandings.
For example, married couples should discuss their roles as step-parents and whether they should be involved in discipline. If the step-parent is not a legal guardian, they should decide where their involvement in parenting, such as their decision-making authority, begins and ends. It’s best to be as specific as possible when defining these roles to ensure that everyone is on the same page.
Set Ground Rules
Establishing ground rules for the household can make it easier to create a harmonious living environment. Depending on the family dynamics, topics like privacy and fairness may come into play. Discussions about how to handle disagreements, communication styles, and overall expectations should be had early on.
These rules should be simple and age-appropriate so that everyone in the family can understand them. Consider involving the children in setting these guidelines to ensure they have a sense of ownership over their new home.
Put the Children First
The needs of everyone in a blended household matter equally, but the consequences of decisions may not always affect all members the same way. It can be easy to overlook how children may be impacted by decisions, but it’s important to prioritize their best interests.
Children may need extra time and understanding as they adjust to the new family structure. They are likely feeling a range of emotions, possibly including fear, confusion, sadness, or anger. Be sure to take this into account when making decisions about the household and parenting plans.
Give Everyone a Voice
Members of a blended family, particularly children, may feel left out and unheard during the transition. As you navigate this new dynamic, make sure everyone feels like their voice is heard and appreciated. Open communication is key to building trust and understanding within your blended family.
Take time to discuss how each family member is feeling about the changes in an open and respectful environment. Creating a safe space for everyone to express themselves without fear of judgment can help ease tensions and strengthen bonds.
Keep All Parents Involved
Co-parenting can feel especially complicated when new step-parents enter the picture. However, all parents should remain an active part of their children’s lives by maintaining a relationship with one another. This doesn’t mean that everyone has to be friends, but the parties should at least strive to be cordial and cooperative.
If possible, strive to have all parents—biological and step—attend important school or extracurricular activities together. This will demonstrate to the children that their parents are united in supporting them. It’s also a great way to create an environment where everyone feels respected, accepted, and valued.
Allow Relationships to Develop Naturally
It can take time for children to become comfortable with a new step-parent and their children, and that’s perfectly normal. While it’s essential to be supportive of the relationship between the step-parent and child, it’s okay if everyone needs some space to adjust. Try not to force the relationship—instead, let it develop naturally.
It’s also important to take time to acknowledge any feelings of disappointment or anger that may be experienced as a result of the divorce and family transition. Allow everyone in the family—both children and adults—to express their emotions without judgment. This can help create an atmosphere of trust and understanding among all members of the blended family.
Have a Flexible Approach
Combining two families into one is no easy feat. Logistics like scheduling, holidays, and vacations can be difficult to work out. Approaching the transition with a set idea of how things will be can lead to frustration and disappointment. It can help to work with your divorce attorney to ensure that your custody agreement is updated and includes information about each person’s new roles, parenting time, and more.
Instead, it’s crucial to be flexible and understand that the family dynamics will likely change over time. Children’s needs may fluctuate as they grow, and expectations may need to be adjusted accordingly. Be open to trying new things and willing to take any feedback into account as it arises.
Accept Your Differences
When two families come together, it’s likely that there will be different parenting styles, values, and goals. In some instances, there may even be differences in culture or religion. Most family members will only have experience living with a shared set of values and traditions, so everyone should be open to learning and accepting different practices.
While some sense of common ground should be sought, there will be times when it’s simply not possible. Try to recognize the value of each individual’s customs and beliefs and encourage your children to do the same. The beauty of a blended family is that everyone comes from a different background and brings unique perspectives to the table. This should be embraced and celebrated rather than resisted.
Create New Family Rituals
Cohesion and unity are essential components of a successful blended family. To foster these values, it’s a good idea to create new shared rituals or traditions that the entire household can look forward to each year.
These activities don’t need to be grand gestures—even something as simple as having dinner together once a week can help bring the family closer together. Take the time to ask for everyone’s suggestions and ideas so that all family members feel included in the activity. At the end of the day, if it brings everyone together in a positive way, then it’s worth doing.
Seek Professional Help When Needed
There will be times when issues arise that are too difficult to work through on your own. If communication becomes strained or there is a lack of progress in building relationships between family members, it may be helpful to seek the advice of an experienced family therapist or counselor.
In some cases, it may also be necessary to enlist the help of a family law attorney. For example, if there is a disagreement between the parents regarding the blended family that cannot be resolved through discussion, an attorney may be able to provide assistance in creating a binding agreement. They can even help during the divorce proceedings if you know a blended family is on the horizon.
Blending families after a divorce can be a difficult adjustment, but with patience, understanding, and the right resources, it is possible to create a loving and supportive environment for all involved. If you and your family are facing this transition, a New Jersey divorce attorney at the Law Office of Kelly Berton Rocco can help you navigate the legal side of things so that you can focus on the well-being of everyone in your blended family. Contact our Hackensack office today at 201-343-0078 to see how we can help!