When we meet that special person and both people have children from a previous relationship, we often struggle to decide when all the children should meet each other.
When is it a good time for all the children to meet?
I suggest after both parents decide the union is something stable or permanent.
When the children are very young, under seven years they enjoy meeting new friends and playing with someone different. Older children are often more cautious and may fear this means these new people may be forced into my life regardless if I like them or not.
The children will usually see each other every second weekend so they may not form a close bond together, they may be more like acquaintances.
When introducing the children to each other, it is a good idea to tell them simply they are the children of your friend. This way it does not bombard them with a feeling of permanency. You can explain that these children are nice kids who belong to your friend from his or her past relationship.
I suggest before introducing them all, tell your children something about the other children. Their name, age, the school they attend, the class they are in, any sport or activities they enjoy. This way they feel familiar and pre-connected. If you have a daughter that loves to dance and your friend’s child also loves dancing, then they already share a bond together. If both sons love soccer, football or similar that can also be a connection. In fact, the children may love the idea of having another child who enjoys the same activities as them, meaning they may really look forward to seeing them and playing with them each time they get together.
It is wise to start off this new relationship doing fun activities together. Instead of them coming over and sitting around the house for a few days or having a quiet dinner out together, try to have something fun arranged. This is how the children will get to know you and your kids. They usually remember the first few times they meet you all and their opinion will be developed quickly so by enjoying fun, laughter and play together is always the best path to set initially. Normal can occur after that but start with fun.
This may mean a game of putt putt golf, bike riding, trip to a family restaurant, swim at the beach or pool, card games at the table, weekend camping all together. Whatever you decide to do ensure the kids enjoy it and you all have plenty of laughter.
Once the relationship progresses and becomes more permanent, I suggest parents never introduce their partner as the step-parent. The fact the children did not select the person, you did. If the child wants to introduce them as their step-parent, that is wonderful but introducing them as their step-parent can place a lot of pressure on the child, especially if the child is a little older.
When creating this new loving family unit, remember the children of your partner may have been parented differently to what your children have been. While many of us believe our parenting style is best, the other parent may feel the same. We can often become frustrated with a step child if their behaviour is outside what we may tolerate. This is when a discussion with the partner is imperative. I have seen too many couples in distress, even at breaking point, due to this issue. Accept the other children will be parented differently to your children with different boundaries, rules and expectations. This is what makes families so unique and people so individual.
If the children of your partner visit fortnightly, and you struggle with some of their behaviours, just smile and manage these differences. Remember that your partner may only get to be involved with their children each second weekend or school holidays and this is such a pressure on them, the last thing they want is being made to discipline them, they just want to enjoy them.
If you are the parent coming into the home with your partner’s children living permanently with you both, and you find the children’s behaviour difficult to manage, then an open discussion with their parent, your partner, is required. Never tell the parent what they are doing wrong simply suggest an alternate way to manage some behaviours that may benefit the child and family unit. If the conversation is not positive, I implore the couple to seek professional Counselling guidance so both parents are on the same page and conflict within the home and relationship is reduced significantly.
You are creating a new family with new personalities, distinct parenting styles, different boundaries and expectations. It is the birth of something wonderful and new. Yes, there may be some hiccups along the way but consider the big picture. Remember they are just children who learn and follow. The children may still be recovering from the loss of their base family unit, so slow progression as the new person is essential.
Checking in with the kids to see how they feel about this new family unit is essential for a few reasons. Doing it with the parent and step parent together is a good idea and ensuring they know you are interested to know how they feel. Make the conversation safe, comfortable and non-judgmental. If one of the children do say something that surprises you, simply be curious and then ask how can this issue be resolved. By asking the child how they feel:
– Recognises the child’s feelings are important
– Allows them to feel heard
– Can alleviate any issue before it escalates
– Enables parents to understand what their child individually needs
– Answers questions they may not have felt comfortable to just ask
– Finds solutions to any problem
– Develops a unity between you all
Combined families can work extremely well. To ensure you can create a loving family environment with all the children there are a few tips to help
1. Recognise the other parent’s children are not your children, you can guide and suggest but certainly not discipline
2. Ensure you continue to spend time alone with your children
3. Always show love and respect to their parent and them
4. Plan activities with all of you together doing things active and fun; laughter solves many issues
5. Do not expect the visiting children to ‘tow the line’ in all jobs done within the home; they may be temporary visitors
6. Always respect their other parent, validate their decision regardless if you agree or not.
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