10 ways to make your stepfamily work

When divorcees with kids remarry, it can be confusing for everyone involved. Here’s how to navigate common obstacles…

It’s not easy to combine two families into a brand-new unit. But with local divorce rates increasing every year ― a record 7,522 marriages were dissolved in 2015, a 2.9 increase from the year before where 7,307 marriages ended ― blended families are fast becoming a regular occurrence in Singapore.

Step-parents are no longer the “big bad wolves” they were once perceived to be. However, plenty of things can still go wrong when you invite virtual strangers into your family.

“It can be confusing for all members when a blended [step] family first forms as adjustment to new living spaces and routines can be challenging,” notes marriage and family therapist Anoushka Beh.

As the new spouses have to learn how to co-parent, this can trigger conflict as both sides will need to work out what roles you’ll each play.

Beh warns. “Children may also feel de-stabilised and insecure in response to these changes and respond in a variety of ways which can include temper tantrums, developmental regression, sleep disruption and other behavioural issues.”

If you’ve recently become part of a blended family or are thinking of remarrying, Beh suggests strategies to ensure that your dream of creating a peaceful and loving home comes true.

#1 Start talking to your child early about the possibility of blending your family

This is good because… Beh notes, “It creates transparency and helps children to feel safe about what to expect if their parent is planning on merging into a blended family.” It’s also a sign that things are getting serious, which means your child will feel more inspired to bond with their step-parent and to trust in the stability of that relationship.
How to do it… Speak with your spouse-to-be first and agree on an approach. Then share this news with the kids. “Children should be given age-specific information about when and what to expect in terms of their living environment, routines and school,” she says. “It’s important they know what will be changing and what be staying the same.” Depending on the age of the child, you can also give them varying amounts of freedom to have some input on some of these changes. After breaking the news, find out what junior’s feelings and reactions are. Do this at different intervals throughout the transition.

“All members of the family should feel that their history and previous experiences are valid and important and not taboo just because they are now part of a new family.”

#2 Don’t expect new relationships to form overnight and don’t force it.

Why you should do this… With so much changing, children are likely to already feel quite de-stabilised and lacking in control during the transition. “Forcing them to ‘feel’ a certain way about a new member entering into the family may feel anywhere from awkward to impossible, depending on the child,” Beh notes. “This could also heighten feelings of powerlessness and cause resentment.”
How to do it… If you are trying to bond with a step-child, engage in some activities together with that child, such as eating together or playing a sport. Do this regularly to cultivate a rhythm, so that the child will feel safe. Highlight individual interests of each family member and see if others may be interested in exploring some of these together. “Also, don’t forget to compliment and encourage efforts they make to connect, while validating the challenges that the child or your partner may also face in establishing this new relationship,” advises Beh. By the way, as you form new memories, don’t forget to cherish the old ones. “All members of the family should feel that their history and previous experiences are valid and important and not taboo just because they are now part of a new family,” adds Beh.  

#3 Establish new family traditions while maintaining important current traditions

Why you should this… “This will help to establish continuity and maintain stability whilst also helping new members forge their own family culture, unique connection and group identity,” Beh explains.
How to do it… Introduce traditions from everyone’s past, such as favourite foods, festive practices and selected activities. This will give each individual a way to connect with their past. “As the family grows together, new practices and rhythms will also naturally emerge and these can be repeated if they are positive, enjoyable and inclusive,” Beh points out.

Click through to find out how to protect your marriage…