When single parents form a blended family, unique joys and challenges can emerge.

Amy Wood, a counselor with Upstate Family Solutions, said becoming a stepparent requires some defining of roles.

“Are they going to be a substitute parent, support or a friend?” she said. “It’s a matter of having good communication within the family of what the roles are.”

Boundaries should be set and expectations should be made clear, Wood said. It helps if children have the same rules at each parent’s home.

“That’s where manipulation can come in between the households,” she said.

To work together, families have to face what Wood said can be one of their biggest challenges: for ex-spouses to get along.

“Any discussion of discipline needs to be done (away from) the children,” she said. “Present a united front together rather than undermining a parent’s authority. If you don’t know they answer, say ‘Your dad and I need to discuss it and we’ll get back to you.’”

Every member of a blended family is important and the new marriage needs time to be nurtured, Wood said.

“Have date night or quiet time,” she said. “If you have a ‘do not disturb’ time, you can have 30 minutes to watch a TV show and the kids know that’s off limits time.”

Wood said every subsequent divorce increases the chances that someone will divorce again. Making the marriage a priority is critical.

Children may have a variety of needs in a new family, depending on their ages.

“For little ones, they may be confused or not have the right words to express themselves,” Wood said.

Older children may struggle with grades or acting out.

“That’s a challenge when you have children coming together,” Wood said. “There can be a disparity in how you treat a biological child versus a step-child. The children pick up on that very quickly.”

What did you say?

In a blended family, Wood said communication is especially important. She said some practical efforts can facilitate the transition and keep families on the same page. Here are a few things to consider.

  • A chore chart or good-behavior chart can make expectations very clear and provide positive reinforcement. Wood said filling the chart or creating a chain of construction paper links can provide a tangible goal. Reward the effort with a treat or a family pizza party.
  • A dry erase board posted in a visible location can list the family’s schedule for the day or week. It sets clear expectations and helps to practically navigate the priorities for everyone.
  • For younger children, a chart or an app can be effective for helping them relate their emotions beyond happy or sad, especially if they are not old enough to articulate what they are feeling.
  • Avoid using a child’s room for punishment. Children should be able to have some time for themselves and have their room be a place of comfort. 

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