What to Discuss Before Blending Your Families

Finding someone new you want to spend your life with after divorce is an amazing thing. You're on top of the world with new found love. If you and your new partner each have your own kids you may be dreaming about having one big happy blended family. Making a blended family successful takes a lot of work though. Your kids did not choose for you to get divorced, or for you to get remarried, so you need to be prepared for the reality that they might not be as excited as you. One of the most important things for successfully blending families is to discuss the logistics ahead of time. Here we cover all the important topics you and your new partner need to talk about before getting married.

Money

Talking about money before you get married is something you obviously have to do, but it is obvious because it is so important. You need to talk about it in depth whether or not you and your new spouse will be sharing money, it is important that you understand your partner’s financial situation and they yours. Disclose your income, your investments and savings, but also all of your debts. You need to be transparent about any pre-established payments and where you spend your money. You and your future spouse will likely value things differently and spend their money differently. It is important to talk about the things that matter to each of you and that you discuss your spending habits. This will help prevent arguments in the future. Things that are important to you, such as organic food, may seem trivial to your partner. Make sure that you know what the other spends their money on and what you each value when it comes to spending.

Living Arrangements

One of the biggest concerns your children will have is how their lives are going to change and where you all will be living. Don’t rely on assumptions about where the two of you will live, each of you may have very different ideas. Discuss all of your options, whether they be moving into one of your current homes or finding something new together. Think about what is best for you, but also what will be best for kids. If you share custody with your Ex discuss your custody schedules. You’ll want to know how often all of your kids will be home together, and if these schedules will change due to your marriage or any changes in living arrangement. Make sure you fill your kids in, in advance about what changes are in store and what they can expect.

Values

Blending families is challenging. You have different traditions and different values that you are trying to make work as a cohesive unit. It takes effort to make a blended family work, and like any family you will have the good times and the bad. One way to make things start off as smoothly as possible is to discuss your family values ahead of time. If one parent values family time heavily, but the other values activity and has their children enrolled in extracurriculars four nights a week you may bump heads. One parent might strictly limit screen time while the other has never put a focus on it, one may emphasize outdoor play while the other focuses on reading. These small differences, though all completely valid, can make blending a family difficult if you do not talk about them before the conflicts arise. Sit down with your partner before you get married and discuss the expectations you have of your children, the things they spend the most time doing, and the things you do and don’t encourage. Having this conversation will make blending your family that much easier.

Boundaries

When a step parent comes into the situation it can be a very difficult transition for your children. They will experience many different emotions and may feel torn between loyalty to you and their other parent. In order to create the best possible relationship between your children and your partner you need to establish boundaries. Will you and your new spouse share the responsibilities of parenting or each focus on your own children? With either choice you then need to decide to what extent; will your partner discipline your child, will they take them to their extracurriculars, help them with their homework etc.? It is important that during this conversation you put what is best for your child first. These decisions will be based on your own unique situation and may change and develop as your children age. Discuss the expectations each of you have for the other going into the marriage and how you will parent. When establishing your boundaries make sure they are clear and stick to them, especially in the early days.

Names

Names can often be a point of contention and should be discussed well in advance. First of all, you need to discuss your own names. Will you take your partner’s last name when you get married? Keep your maiden name? Keep your Ex’s name? There are valid reasons for each of these points; Kate Chapman of This Life in Progress writes about keeping her ex husband’s last name because it’s her children’s name. Whatever you choose to do make sure you and your partner discuss it and understand the choice.

The other issue with names is what your partner’s children will call you, and what your children will call your partner. In the majority of situations the children will already be familiar with the new spouse and will likely have an established name for them. If you want this to change once you’re married discuss it with the children and see what they are comfortable with. It would also be wise to consult your Ex if they are still in the children’s lives. For example, if your children call your new wife a version of “mom” it could be upsetting for your ex wife and create problems between the two of you. Make sure to discuss what both of you want with each other, your children, and when relevant your Exes. Keeping open lines of communication and discussing the changes to come with everyone involved is the best way to successfully blend families from the get go.

Holidays

Holidays are a time of traditions and family. Bringing two different families together with their memories of past holidays and potential feelings of loss can make holidays difficult. You want to value everyone's traditions while making new ones as a whole family. You don’t have to plan out all the details, but before you get married discuss your family traditions and the things that matter to your children. When you get married they may cling to these old things as pieces of stability. Talk about how you can incorporate each other's traditions and what new ones you will create together. Your custody arrangement might mean that you don’t always have your children with you over the holidays so discuss this as well; who will actually be there. You may decide to celebrate some holidays separately and visit your respective families or you may have to be flexible about when you celebrate in order to get the whole family together. Discussing these things ahead of time can minimize the stress that often comes with holidays.

Family

Closely tied with holidays is family, particularly your extended families. Before you get married discuss the expectation each of you has for your own, and each other's, extended families. Will your parents treat your partner’s children like their own grandchildren? Do their children want that relationship? Will they attend family functions, etc.? Once you’ve discussed your expectations see if they line up with the expectations that your children and your families have. There will likely be some differences so handle those as they come to light. Doing this before you get married will allow for a smoother transition into a blended family and minimize any awkwardness or confusion between your families and your children.

Blending families is hard but it is not impossible. By preparing yourselves and discussing what is to come you and your new partner can have a long successful marriage.