What Is a Blended Family?
A blended family, also referred to as a stepfamily, reconstituted family, or complex family, is a family unit where either or both parents have children from a previous relationship, and the two families have now combined to form a new family. Blended families can have parents that are married or cohabiting.
How Do You Co-Parent in a Blended Family?
When you remarry or start a new relationship and have children from a previous relationship, blending families can be challenging. If you are co-parenting with your ex, the situation can take even more patience and adjustments. Below, we will discuss some tips for co-parenting with a blended family in mind. However, please be advised that every family is different, and what works for one family may not work for another.
Review Your Custody or Visitation Agreement
A blended family may be trying to work out a new routine. Whether that involves changing who does custody/visitation drop-offs or disciplines the children, or helps with homework, you should review your custody or visitation arrangement to refamiliarize yourself and any new step-parents with the terms of the arrangement. In your final agreement, you may have included rules concerning discipline from outside parties, drop-offs, etc., and it is important you honor and adhere to the terms of your agreement.
It is important to establish clear boundaries when it comes to a step-parent role in raising children, and your co-parenting agreement is a great place to start. In reviewing the agreement, parents can discuss what they are comfortable with regarding the new parent’s role in the children’s lives. If possible, you should also have a discussion or meeting with your co-parent to address any concerns or thoughts.
For instance, Parent A and Parent B share physical custody, but Parent A has full legal custody. Parent A remarried Parent C. How comfortable are all the parents if Parent A discuss what extracurriculars their child does with Parent C? Can Parent C do child pick-ups and drop-offs? Did your co-parenting agreement have rules concerning a new partner’s ability to discipline your child?
Give Everyone Time & Space to Adjust
Introducing another party into your family is never easy, and everyone will need time to adjust. Just as a step-parent needs time to adjust to being a parent, honoring the custody/visitation agreement, and being a member of the family, your child needs time to adjust to changes in family relationships and traditions.
However, while you should give them time to adjust, be sure you communicate openly and as often as possible. By having discussions with your child, you can help them avoid bottling up their emotions or holding/forming grudges. It can also be helpful to establish a non-judgmental but respectful atmosphere, and you should give yourself and others grace while you adjust.
Be Civil & Insist on Respect
Co-parents and their new partners should avoid badmouthing each other—not only because you will need to work together but also because it can be harmful to your children. You should avoid fighting in front of the children as well; everyone will need time to adjust and you don’t want to alienate your child or make them feel like they have to choose sides. It is also important to note that parents should encourage their children to respect new partners. For instance, Parent A shouldn’t talk about Parent B’s new partner with their child. Disparaging a new step-parent can be just as harmful as putting down a co-parent.
Consider Your Child’s Age
Your child’s age can impact how they adjust as a child’s physical and emotional needs change as they get older. Here are some age-based tips regarding how children of certain ages may respond to a blended family (that has two co-parents already).
- Children under the age of 10 may be more welcoming or a new adult; while they may adjust more easily, they may also struggle with feeling like they have to compete for their parent’s attention. Parents and stepparents should be patient and try to reinforce their love and support of children at this age; you might also consider having one-on-one time and giving them personalized attention.
- Children between 10 and 14 may struggle to adjust to a stepfamily and often need time to bond with a new parent. They may also struggle with a new adult acting as a disciplinarian, which can be further complicated if either of their parents (legal guardians) undermines their authority. Pre-teens may also struggle with discussing or showing their true feelings concerning the blending of the family, and they may act out. Parents and step-parents should encourage pre-teens to be honest about their feelings and have a healthy outlet. You should also present a united front (with your co-parent as well if possible) when it comes to discipline and rules.
- Teenagers 15 years of age and older may prefer to separate themselves from a stepfamily and may shy away from affection or sensitivity. However, they still want to feel loved, secure, and important. Relationship building is important at this age. Parents and stepparents should prioritize verbal affection and make sure the teen knows they are wanted, welcome, and loved.
Consider Using a Co-Parenting App
Co-parenting apps can help foster communication and keep all parents up-to-date on what’s going on with their children. Some apps act as a messaging platform, joint calendar, childcare expenses tracker, and/or journal, and blended families can benefit from letting everyone have access to the same information. Popular co-parenting apps are Cozi, Our Family Wizard, 2Houses, and Coparenta. FamCal is also great for large families or those who want other third parties (i.e. lawyers, counselors, etc.) to have access to certain information.
Keep the Children at the Center
Co-parenting in a blended family isn’t that much different than co-parenting in a two-parent arrangement, because the primary focus is on the children and their best interest. If you get upset or frustrated while navigating co-parenting with a blended family, remind yourself you all want to do what’s best for your children.
At William Kirby Law, Family Law Attorneys, we exclusively practice family law. Whether you need help with establishing or modifying child custody and visitation terms or filing for divorce, our firm is here to help you, and we are equipped to help blended families.
Schedule an initial case consultation today by calling (215) 515-9901 or reaching out online.