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Who Comes First in a Blended Family?

who comes first in a blended family, your child or your partner

It’s a dilemma faced by many parents across the world; who comes first in a blended family, your partner or your child? In traditional relationships, the couple develops a relationship first, then becomes parents together. Blended families flip this, and it’s the parent/child relationship that has the history and the deeper connection. It’s easy to rationalize that the emotional and physical needs of your child are always the most important, but there will also be times that your partner will need to be prioritized.

Living in a blended family can be challenging. The mix of different personalities, needs, and expectations can be difficult to navigate, and at times may cause conflict. It’s important that you are able to spend quality time with both your new partner and your child – to maintain your bond with your child, and to nourish the relationship with your partner. But should you have a process for deciding who comes first when? Is it possible to avoid having to choose between your partner and your child?

Read more: Blended Families With Teens: 5 Things You Should Know

Putting your children first in a blended family

Parents have a unique bond with their children that is generally unconditional. This is different from adult relationships, which often have limitations and conditions. The child is dependent on their parent, and parents will naturally prioritize their child – not only is it a natural reaction, but it’s also what the child will expect. A new partner cannot and should not try to compete with the parent/child bond and relationship.

Most parents make their child or children the top priority in life. And as you create your new blended family, you will want to provide consistency for your child, whether they live with you full time or come to stay at the weekend or on holidays. If your children or your partner’s children are living with you, you may find that when you and your partner want to spend time together the children will want to get involved as well. Many blended families will do things together and find a way to make sure everyone feels welcome and involved, but it’s not always easy.

Your child always comes first if:
– Their health or safety is at risk
– Your partner is trying to discipline them in a way that you didn’t agree on as a family

When your partner comes first in a blended family

While the health, safety, and emotional wellbeing of the kids are vital, sometimes you will need to put your partner first. Your kids may be less than impressed by this, but it actually demonstrates to them what a loving relationship looks like. Young children learn about life through observation, they learn how to develop strong relationships by watching their parents and other adults. While your previous marriage may not have worked out, you still have the chance to show your kids what a great relationship looks like. This will help them develop resilience and good relationship skills in the future.

You are also role-modeling the way you want your partner to be treated by your children, and demonstrating their importance in all your lives. Blended families can be complicated. But loving each other, showing support, and understanding when your partner needs you to put them first will show your children that this relationship is important to you.

There are many ways that you can put your partner first, and it’s often small gestures that are the most meaningful. Supporting your partner’s decisions and their argument if you feel it is the right thing to do for the whole family can help them feel like an important and valued part of the family dynamic. It’s a good idea to set ground rules in a blended family to help with decision-making and discipline. If you have any issues with your partner, it’s best to discuss them in private so they don’t feel undermined. You can then talk with your children later if necessary.

Your partner always comes first if:
– Your children are being rude or disrespectful to them
– They are being undermined by your ex-partner or other family members

It’s not about who you love more

Who you put first in any given situation doesn’t depend on who you love more. You’ll likely find there are some situations where you put your child first and others where you prioritize your relationship with your partner. If your partner and your kids (and you!) can begin to understand this, it will make life much simpler. Your children will always be important to you, but you deserve the opportunity to enjoy and prioritize your relationship with your partner too.

Remember to offer praise to your family; let your children know when they’re doing well and tell your partner you appreciate their efforts. You can also offer specific praise to family members in front of everyone in the household as this will help you all encourage each other and strengthen your family relationships. In blended families, often the small things can make a significant impact.

My partner prioritizes their kids over me

It’s easy to feel like an outsider when you’re in a blended family but you’re not the biological parent. You don’t want to compete with the parent/child relationship, but it’s hard to feel like you’re part of a family unit if your partner is always putting the kids before you. Rather than feeling left out, try to understand your partner’s role as a parent and see things from their perspective. Discuss your concerns with your partner before things escalate – let them know how you’re feeling and make suggestions for how things might be improved.

Lead image via Pexels

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Integrating families Living together

10 Reasons Why Stepparenting Is So Hard

Frustrated woman with her head in her hands, Why is StepParenting so Hard

Parenting is a tough gig, no matter which way you look at it, but why is stepparenting so hard? (Dare we say harder than biological parenting?) There are many reasons why stepparenting can be challenging, especially if you step into the role after having children of your own. Here are 10 reasons why you might find it challenging.

1. You’re used to running your family a certain way

You probably like to do things your way, and that’s not necessarily how your partner does things. Parenting styles may need to be adjusted on both sides. Sometimes stepparents will have difficulty dealing with these changes because it feels like all their past parenting experience is being disregarded— and that can feel really frustrating.

To cope with this, step into the stepparenting role slowly. Be prepared to work together with your partner and be open to merging parenting styles where possible. It’s unrealistic to expect to make all the changes straight away, and perhaps some areas will be non-negotiable. The more time you spend getting to know each other’s children, the easier the process will be.

2. Your stepchildren may have a relationship with their biological parents

If they do, then try not to interfere. Expect that they will still have an ongoing bond with their biological parent even if they now live with you full time.  Respect this relationship and never badmouth this parent in front of your stepchild.  This relationship with their parent is likely to provide a feeling of security which is imperative to a child’s emotional & mental health.

3. You may feel like you never measure up

Your stepchild’s birth parent may be someone who is highly respected and admired by your stepchild. This can often make stepparents feel inadequate you might feel that you’re at a disadvantage because you simply can’t live up to your stepchild’s expectations.

How you can cope with this:  It’s important to remember stepparenting is not a competition. Your step child doesn’t care about how amazing their biological parents are, they only want to be loved and accepted by you. Furthermore, remember that blending families is challenging for stepchildren too! Work on building a good relationship first, and not so much on trying to be a “parent figure” right off the bat.

4. You feel insecure about your relationship with your partner

Have you sometimes wondered if they love their biological children more than they love you? Or does their co-parenting relationship with their ex make you feel insecure? Your feelings are normal! This can even be more predominant in the beginning.

Focus more on developing a good co-parenting relationship all together so stepparenting is about all of you working together as one cohesive unit. Everyone is one big team here, and the goal is harmony.

5. You find your stepchildren challenging

You’ve noticed some behavioral challenges with your stepchildren and you’re simply stumped about how to handle them. What now? When children behave in a challenging way, there is always a reason why. Sometimes it will be a developmental leap, which is very normal in younger children, or the transition to the teenage years with all the accompanying hormones. Perhaps they’re frustrated or confused by the new family situation, or something at school is bothering them. Other times it might be something more serious; your stepchild may be struggling in some way or experiencing stress. Discuss any issues with your partner and see how they want to handle the challenges. If it’s an ongoing issue that concerns you both you may want to consider turning to play therapy (for younger children) or counseling.

6. You feel left out sometimes

As the stepparent, you may feel left out or even excluded at times. You might feel that stepchildren favor your partner (their biological parent) over you, or listen to them more. This can lead to feelings of disappointment. Try not to take things personally. It’s normal that your stepchildren will feel more secure with their biological parent than they do with you initially, and that may change over time, or it may not. They too are trying to find their place in the new family dynamic.

7) Sometimes stepparenting is just really hard and tiring

You might find yourself tired of hearing “I miss my mom/dad…” or “Why don’t I live with them?” Your stepchild may bring up challenging topics about their biological parent (family law issues, finances, etc.). Dealing with this can be exhausting! Maybe you’re thinking, “I kinda wish you lived with them too!” and feeling guilty about that.

Know that you don’t always have to solve the problem. Sometimes, it helps just to lend a listening ear. And if you’re feeling frustrated and tired, it’s ok to give yourself a break and step away for an evening. Better to invest in some me-time and come back feeling calmer and happier, than to say something or behave in a way that you later regret.

9. You probably won’t have any legal rights over your stepchild

Unless you have adopted your stepchild, you likely have no legal rights. When it comes to making decisions about their education it’s the biological parents who have the say. If your stepchild is in an accident or seriously ill, doctors will need to seek consent from their biological parent/s before administering any kind of treatment.  Watching your partner make decisions alone, or in consultation with their ex can be hard. Offer your opinions if you have them, but legally the decisions are not yours to make.  Make sure you and your partner have discussed guardianship in your estate planning too.

10. Stepparenting can be confusing for all parties

Adjusting to the new family dynamic takes time. It might be confusing that members of the family have different last names, or maybe they’re not sure how to introduce you or their stepsiblings to someone. You might be avoiding the ‘step’ label, but still feel the need to explain why you suddenly have an 8-year-old child.

Don’t overthink this one! Nobody needs an explanation. Your family is unique and beautiful no matter what everyone’s names are. If you notice any awkward moments, ask your stepchild about it—they may be too embarrassed on confused to bring it up. It’s better to get these things out in the open early, to defuse any awkwardness and let them know the family is a team.

Stepparenting is so hard but so rewarding

Most stepparents will find their stepparenting journey one of the most challenging relationships they will ever experience. It does take a lot of patience and by no means should be approached with a negative attitude. Keep your eyes open for any signs of tension and slowly work towards defusing these, slowly but surely!

It’s not easy, but the rewards are amazing. It’s an extraordinary feeling when your stepchildren start to look up to you as someone who can solve problems and offer advice—and most of all, make them feel safe and secure.

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