As wonderful as it is to have found love the second time around, living in a blended family can seem particularly stressful at times. Newly formed stepfamilies -- and experts say that "new" is a term that can apply for up to seven years, as everyone learns to navigate old loyalties, unfamiliar relationships, and developmental changes -- need lots of advice, and they know it. Conflict about how to handle kids is tough on everyone and can be murder on a marriage. (It's one of the reasons second unions fail more than first ones.) We've got advice on how to handle the most predictable hurdles.
My 3-year-old spends every other weekend with my ex, who just ignores our son's schedule for naps, meals, and bedtime. How can I get him to respect our request for consistency between our houses?
While there is plenty you can do to create healthy routines in your home, there's a limit to how much you can impose your ideas and standards on someone else, says Anne C. Bernstein, Ph.D., a family psychologist and mediator in Berkeley, California. Your requests -- even something as basic as "please get him to bed by 8:30 because otherwise he has a hard time at day care" -- can be construed as bossy, critical, or controlling. You'll be more successful if you try to address your ex as a colleague rather than a subordinate. Stick to the issues you think are most important -- maybe bedtime matters more than what or when your child eats. But be clear that you're asking, not demanding, and then let it go. The good news, Dr. Bernstein says, is that this probably isn't as much of a problem as you think. "There will always be differences between homes, and there's a wide spectrum of how well families cooperate," she adds. "From a very young age, even as toddlers, kids are able to appreciate that. It's as simple as saying, 'In Dad's house bedtime may be different, but here it's 8:30.' "
Sometimes I feel like my stepdaughter, who's 4, is trying to come between us. How can I tell my husband without sounding jealous?
She's just a little kid longing for her daddy, and if you're smart, you'll encourage her. "One of the biggest myths about blended families is that there should be a lot of family togetherness, and there will be an instant sense of intimacy," says Francesca Adler-Baeder, Ph.D., professor of human development and family studies at Auburn University, in Alabama. "Your stepdaughter is likely just seeking the time and attention she is used to getting from Dad." But don't worry -- she's not plotting. Kids aren't able to grasp the intricacies of relationships (or how to bust them up) until around age 10. "Before then, they're just normally egocentric," says Dr. Adler-Baeder. Try to make sure she gets alone time with her dad, fun time with both of you, and one-on-one opportunities with you too.