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Tips for Blended Families - Five Big Ideas

By Yvette Vignando - 12th April 2012

Watch the video from Channel 9 Mornings in which I discuss some of these blended family tips with David Campbell and Sonia Kruger.

Blended families are very common in Australia -  estimated at over 10.5% of couple families with children. The good news is that after the initial challenges of combining two families, there is a very good chance that a blended family will succeed. In this video and article, five big ideas are briefly discussed to give families a starting point for success.

It's common for blended families to take about two years to find a rhythm that suits all members of the family. Parents should expect that older children will take longer to adapt to a new family situation - Relationships Australia advises that children between 5 and 18 are likely to take more time to adapt and accept the new household.

Five key ideas for success are:

Empathy: take others’ points of view

Put yourself in the place of a child who is asked to get used to a new adult at home, perhaps share a bedroom and spend less time with another biological parent - it's tough. Make your decisions and style your communications while respecting the feelings of the children and other adults in the household. If you are not sure how someone is feeling - always ask, then honour that information in your decision-making.

Patience: expect success to take some time

It's unrealistic to imagine that a new blended family will look and sound like The Brady Bunch within a few months - expect challenges and plan for them. Parents who anticipate challenges are more likely to help a child when they arise. It's especially important for the step-parent to not get too involved in discipline in the early stages of a new blended family - as much as possible, leave this to the biological parent. Once a family is well bonded, perhaps after a year or two, it may feel more natural and appropriate for the step-parent to be enforcing some of the family rules.

Consistency: clear boundaries help children

Consistency in family rules and expectations of respect, are important in all families. But in a blended family consistency is even more critical - children need to see and feel that their biological parent and step-parent have similar styles in their parenting boundaries. Big differences in parenting styles or in what is considered acceptable behaviour could undermine the 'blending' process.

Be Realistic: some stress and challenge is normal

Expect that siblings will find it difficult to adapt to each other, and be creative about how to help this process along. Forgive your children for the time it may take them to get used to living with a new adult, sharing time and houses with new step siblings and accepting a new rhythm in a home. Stressful times do not mean your blended family won't work - they are just a reminder to be creative, use empathy, find a solution and communicate.

Communicate: talk, listen and be available

This is especially important for the biological parent in a blended family. Make sure you take time to communicate one on one with your child or children, away from the rest of the family. Ask questions about how they are feeling, remind them about your love of them using words and actions, listen to their concerns in a non-judgemental way. And as a family, communicate openly about your new situation so that everyone feels included in working towards a harmonious home.

Watch the video from Channel 9 Mornings in which I discuss some of these blended family tips with David Campbell and Sonia Kruger.

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