Divorce is hard on kids. There’s no way to sugar coat it – breaking the news to them is almost always an emotionally heavy event.
If you’re planning to co-parent, there is an additional likelihood that you and your ex-spouse will eventually re-marry, meaning you’ll create a blended family. Family dynamics have shifted significantly since the 1960s. More children growing up in non-traditional family structures than ever before, according to data from the Pew Research Center.
A blended family can be both challenging and rewarding. It’s important to learn how to balance co-parenting with introducing new spouses into the mix. This can help kids maintain a sense of security while new partners bond with them and work on establishing trust.
Steady patience and understanding are key
Here are some tips for easing kids into a new blended family to make sure things go as smoothly as possible for everyone:
- Take things slowly. Forcing kids to immediately accept a new partner and even new step-siblings will only make them resentful. Give them time and space to adjust to new people, build trust, and reorient themselves.
- Present a united front with your current spouse and your ex. This means making sure that kids see the adults in their lives as even-keeled leaders and decision-makers. Bad-mouthing your former spouse or questioning their parenting decisions should never happen in front of children. Doing so makes kids feel like they have to pick a side, and places unnecessary emotional burdens on them.
- Create one-on-one time with your kids. It’s wonderful to spend time together as a newly blended family, but kids also need time to bond alone with their biological parents. In a co-parenting scenario, it’s important that both parents carve out this time.
- Gradually incorporate your new partner into parenting decisions. Too much step-parenting authority at once is a heavy burden for both new partners and children. Disrespect should never be tolerated, but kids and their step-parents should have initial boundaries that can naturally evolve as the relationship grows.
- Understand and respect that both households will be different. Both parents and their new spouses will have different needs, beliefs, and values that inform their household rules. It’s important to recognize that occasionally, or even often, you and your ex-spouse may be at odds. The disagreement might be over how to navigate a parenting need, or about particular rules (or a lack thereof). If you need to discuss rules or decisions directly impacting your child, it may be helpful to hire a mediator or family counselor to assist.
There are innumerable factors at play in co-parenting blended families, and each household will grow at its own pace. Focusing on patience, understanding, and civility will help you what’s best for your children at all times and create healthy environments where they can thrive and find joy.