Blended families have never been more common. As Americans marry, divorce and remarry in high numbers, the appearance of a stepparent in the life of a child no longer comes as a shock. However, the stereotype of the wicked stepmother of fairy tale fame has emerged and persisted for a reason. Children are uncomfortable with having their parents replaced. By taking proactive steps to foster a strong, healthy relationship between their children and a new partner, parents can avoid many of the pitfalls of competition, jealousy and resentment among family members.
WHEN SMALL CHILDREN ARE INVOLVED
Small children are infinitely better at adjusting to new situations than adults. That is not to say that the adults involved do not need to be sensitive. A parent who is introducing a new marriage partner to a child can consider these ideas to ease the transition:
- Do not attempt to replace the parent - Never tell a child, "This is your new mom."
- Maintain boundaries concerning intimacy - Conduct your intimate relationship behind a closed door when children are present.
- Keep parenting schedules consistent - Assure your child that you still value your time together.
- Allow relationships to evolve - Do not assume that everyone is going to love each other immediately.
Try not to punish a young child for acting out when introduced to, or in the company of your new partner. This is a natural reaction to the changing situation and is likely to soften with time.
TEENAGE AND ADULT CHILDREN
Older children are more aware of the implications of a new partnership and want to be treated with honesty and respect. Addressing their concerns from the outset can go a long way toward establishing a peaceful relationship:
- Discuss finances - Tell your adult children if you have a prenuptial agreement and explain how your assets are to be divided.
- Involve children in decisions - Do not elope just to avoid hurt feelings. This could backfire and damage your relationships with your children.
- Prioritize - Maintain a balance between nurturing your new relationship and preserving your relationship with your children.
A new partner can infuse your life with new hope and meaning, but do not assume your children feel the same way. Give them time to adjust.
Blended families have unique legal needs. Speak to a family law attorney about your prenuptial agreement and estate planning tools