Blending families takes work, planning

Blended Familes - family shadow against sunsetCarol and Mike Brady made the whole concept of blended families look so easy. Even their trials and tribulations were resolved with smiles and handshakes among rivaling siblings. But life isn’t a television sitcom and there are countless challenges when it comes to such mergers.

Your new life as a stepparent might mean having to overcome the stereotypical “Cinderella syndrome” where you are seen as the wicked stepmother. Or, if you are more fortunate, you may find yourself living the “Modern Family” version where everyone – from Jay and Gloria to Cam and Mitchell – seemingly get along.

Pressing the “blend” button on your life requires a great deal of forethought. Remember, it’s not just two families coming together, but there are outside forces to consider – i.e. your ex-spouse and your new spouse’s ex-spouse, as well as extended family.

Before tying the knot and bringing everyone under the same roof, there are some things you might want to take into consideration:

Change is difficult, give everyone time to adjust: Children are going through a tough enough time having to deal with their parents’ split, now you are asking them to deal with a new family dynamic. Talk it out before changing your living arrangements. Explain to them what is ahead. Make sure they feel secure and know that you still love them.

Don’t expect to become Carol Brady overnight: While the boys in the sitcom seemed to respect their stepmother and (mostly) get along with her girls, that’s often the exception to the rule. Getting your stepchildren to develop a relationship with you and/or your children will take time. Don’t force it; let it come naturally.

Discuss child-rearing strategies ahead of time: You and your new spouse may have different thoughts on how to raise the children; talk about them before moving everyone in and don’t do it in front of the children. You also will need to take into consideration that your stepchildren’s other parent likely will have more say in their upbringing than you. Respect their wishes.

Don’t let the children destroy your relationship: You and your new spouse should lay the groundwork for what is acceptable and not acceptable in this new family. Although the new stepparent may not always have the last say, the children should be made to understand that their new stepmother or stepfather deserves respect. If the children start pitting one parent against the other, this could result in yet another divorce down the road.

Vacations and holidays: These are particularly difficult times for blended families. Determine ahead of time who the children will be spending time with and when. Many times these arrangements are determined in child custody agreements. Make sure extended family members understand this and respect the arrangements that have been agreed upon.

Looking to the future: Make sure that your finan ces are in order when it comes to your children. Have a will and trust in place that specifically outlines what your children should get and with whom they should live in the event of your death.

Blending two families together isn’t always easy. Even the Brady Bunch had a few rough patches along the way. However, if you take into consideration these few steps, it could make life more like a sitcom and less like a horror film.

Lori Barkus is a Florida Supreme Court Certified Circuit Civil and Family Law mediator and guardian ad litem. She handles matters relating to divorce, custody, child support, paternity, collaborative divorce, adoption, parental rights, and family law and civil mediation

Ms. Barkus is a cum laude graduate of the University of Miami School of Law. She is admitted to practice in Florida, Georgia and the District of Columbia, as well as in the Southern and Middle Districts of Florida and the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court of Appeals. She is also a member of Leading Women for Shared Parenting.

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