Creating a Family
Once you've put your parenting house in order, turning it into a loving, well-blended home is another task entirely. Stepfamilies need time together in order to bond and figure out the new relationships, a tall order when you consider visitation and custody schedules.
But you don't have to carve out enormous blocks of time to connect with one another. Reading a story together every night before bed or taking a weekly trip to the playground as a family helps children feel loved and listened to, cornerstones of harmonious family life.
And because kids in blended families may spend lots of time moving from house to house, establishing return rituals is another way to smooth the transition and show them you're not just Daddy's new wife -- you're also a caregiver. This is a strategy Schultz employs. "When we do a house switch, we always stop for ice cream on the way home. It gives us all some grace time before jumping into a different routine," she says. It also turns a potentially anxiety-provoking transition into a fun family ritual the kids eagerly look forward to.
Remember, too, that "the most important relationship to nurture in any stepfamily is between the adult partners," says Erwin. In fact, putting more energy and effort into coupledom may improve your relationships with all the children, who will begin to see you as a strong, united front instead of two bewildered (or even squabbling) individuals. To accomplish this goal, you need to set aside time alone with your partner to discuss family issues. At each meeting, pick the two most important problems you've been having and brainstorm solutions. At the end of each meeting, do something special: Give each other backrubs, or watch a movie to reward yourselves. And schedule regular date nights and weekends away when kid-related topics are off limits. All of this planning, scheduling, and communicating is tough but worth it, says Schultz, who feels that learning from past relationship mistakes makes couples in stepfamilies better able to weather family storms. "We know that you need to work hard to make a happy marriage and family," she says.