Blended Family – Rules And Boundaries


Blended FamilyThis is a fairly common recipe, and it can be delicious or a complete disaster.

The base ingredients for this recipe are fairly standard, with a few variations.

Children.  The children are a key ingredient.  They may be primary custody, shared custody or standard visitation, as far as their time with each parent involved in this recipe.

2 Adults.  The adults can be both divorced or just one may be divorced.  The key is that one of the adults has children, although they both can have children.

Some of the following ingredients might be thrown in just to make the mix more interesting, which can make it flavorful or tart, depending on the maturity level of the ingredient.

An ex-spouse.  The ex can be a primary custodial parent, shared custodial parent or even just a parent with visitation.  No matter the type of custody situation, the attitude of the ex spouse is very important.  If the ex is bitter and angry, the mix will be tart and not very appetizing.

It is important to introduce the ex into the recipe before you mix it all up.  The reason for this is that when you blend a family, you are not just blending the adults who marry and the children of those respective marriages.  You are blending the ex’s into that family as well.  As long as any third person is involved with children for extended amounts of time, both parents should know this person and feel comfortable with them spending time with their children.  It will promote peace and good will and the end result will be a much healthier recipe.

There will be times, that no matter how you handle this one ingredient; the bitterness from it will seep through.  Sometimes you cannot combat that bitterness, so you must elevate yourself in the recipe and not add to that bitterness.  When you can do this, it will plump up the children of the mix and sweeten some of the bitter.

Finally, there are always extras you can throw in to the mixture to make it sweeter.  I recommend the spouse that turns out to be the step parent add these ingredients.

Patience.  It is hard to gain a step parent.  Suddenly your child may feel displaced.  If you are not the primary custodian, and you move into your new spouse’s life, who is a primary custodian, it is important to realize that this child needs to feel like this is their home as well.

Alternatively, if you are moving into a home where your step children have been living, you are on their turf, so you must tread lightly to see how it will go.  Patience will get your through all of this.

Tough Skin.  I recommend this ingredient even in the best circumstances.  No matter how much you love your step children, there will be times you will hear, “You aren’t my parent.”  If you realize those words are said out of anger, hurt or frustration, then you will survive without bringing the bitter into the mix.

Tough Skin also helps when dealing with a bitter or angry ex spouse.  Remember, words and surface feelings from children are generally emulated not ingrained.  So, if you are having serious trouble with a child, you might want to consider if it is coming from the ex spouse.  If it is not, talk to your spouse about therapy or seeking help for that child to deal with underlying and unresolved issues.

Love.  Children can never have too many people love them.  If you continue to love your step children and treat them like your own children, your blended family will be sweet and rich.

Understanding.  Try putting yourself in the child’s shoes.  How would you feel if a new man moved into your home and into your mother’s bed?  How would you feel if you had to visit your parent at his new home with kids that already lived there and had been living there, trying to find your place amongst them?

If you add the ingredients above, you will notice a great blend of family.  There is no question that there will be tough times, but keep at it, and eventually, you will obtain the perfect recipe for blended family success!

Acknowledge, Accept, Empower and Heal.

Blended Families

The dynamics of marriage are clearly drawn out.  There is one person who is generally a disciplinarian, while the other is more passive when it comes to passing out punishment to the children.  But, when a marriage breaks up, those dynamics change because the passive parent must learn to discipline and the disciplinarian must learn to be softer.

What happens when the dynamics change again by introducing a step parent into the equation?  It is a fine line for the step parent and doling out discipline to the children that are not theirs.  In a perfect world, when a family is blended, the person who lives full time with kids that they did not bring into this world, will act and be the other parent and will be accepted as such by the children.  The truth is we do not live in a perfect world.

When the step parent only has the kids with them on a part time and barely any time basis, that fine line is even finer.  So, how should discipline be handled?  First marriages can go by the motto, what’s mine is yours, but second and third marriages?  It doesn’t work that way.  Even if your new spouse tells you that their kids are as good as your own, the fact is they are not your own.  They belong to someone else, and that someone else may not like you disciplining their children, and you can believe that those children will tell that other parent every single thing.

Not stepping on toes is tough when you are the step.  You don’t want to step on the natural parents toes or your new spouse’s toes and you certainly don’t want to step on the children’s toes.  But, when you are left to care for those children and the new spouse is not around, you must take on a role that is not that of friend, but one that is of parent, whether those children are yours naturally or by marriage.  More importantly, those children need to know that you have been given that role by the natural parent.  And, even more importantly, the new spouse needs to stand by you as your discipline and dole out punishment by backing you up.

It is vital to layout the role that you will play as the step before you even get married.  You need to know the rules and boundaries.  For instance, my husband has 100% support from me regarding my children.  We parent together, and if I am not around, or he is with the kids without me and they misbehave, he knows he has the right to correct them and punish them as he sees fit.  My children know this as well, and I have made it very clear to them that he is the other parent in this house and he is to be respected and listened to.

That is not to say that sometimes I don’t wince when he calls out one of my kids for being disrespectful or puts them in their rooms when they are fighting with each other.  I do wince, but I also know that because he is acting as a parent, they not only respect him but go to him for more and more things as the marriage is progressing, which lightens the burden on me and strengthens the relationship between them.

As a step parent in my past marriage, my then husband took on all the parenting roles and my role was one of babysitter.  I did not have the authority to discipline, and the children knew it.  When one of them misbehaved, I was to report it to my ex, and his response would be, “I wasn’t there to see it, so what do you expect me to do about it?”  It made for children that were often very disrespectful and even more often misbehaving.  They knew they not only did not have to listen to me, but that their own father disregarded what I had to say.  It made for a bad step situation and a very difficult one.

If you aren’t ready for your spouse to discipline your children, then let them know up front that they will not be taking on that role, and that they are there for the fun stuff, but that you will take on the serious stuff.  But, be sure you do take on the serious stuff, and if you tell your spouse to tell you when discipline needs to be doled out, and you will handle it, handle it and don’t undermine the already negligible role you have given the step parent to begin with.

If you do want discipline to be handed out by the step, make sure your children know it and understand it.  It will help their relationship with the step to know what the boundaries are and the steps relationship with the children will be set as a parental figure and not just that as a play date.

Either way, support the step in their decisions and have faith that they are only doing what is in the best interest of the children.  If you don’t have that, then perhaps they weren’t the best choice for you to bring into your children’s lives to begin with.

What are your experiences with doling out the discipline as either the step parent or the parent who is married to the step?

Sarah Bates

During my 5 years in the divorce industry, I gained a lot of knowledge.  Knowledge of the court system and how it works, knowledge on how to let go of the anger, knowledge on how to communicate and most importantly, knowledge on how to empower power people to stay out of court.

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