Engaged? These co-parenting tips can help blend your two families
In this article, you’ll find answers to questions like:
1. How do I introduce a new partner?
2. How do we start blending parenting styles?
3. Where can we get advice?
More than 1,300 stepfamilies form every day, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, and it's anticipated the 2020 count will find more stepfamilies than “original” families. So if you’re dating and/or engaged with children from previous relationships, you’re far from alone.
Communicate with your kids from the start to successfully blend families, local parenting counselors say.
1. HOW DO I INTRODUCE A NEW PARTNER?
You find someone you really enjoy, and the feeling is mutual. So let your children know you’re dating before introducing them so they can begin to imagine you with someone other than their other parent. Spend consistent one-on-one time with your children so they don't feel a new person is compromising their time with you, says Michelle Rodriguez, supervisor for Positive Parenting Program, known as Triple P, at Center for Family Services of Palm Beach County in West Palm Beach.
Through Triple P, the center’s staff helps families set goals for better communication, identify changes they would like to see in behavior and choose strategies that fit their family’s lifestyle.
“When a parent feels their children are ready to meet their new person, introductions can include planning a date as a group where you can go to dinner or have a fun outing, so there is less pressure,” Rodriguez says. “Afterward, give your children a chance to express their feelings about the situation.”
Children may find it difficult to open up about or with the new person, so it’s important to make them feel comfortable, to give them space and time, and to listen.
2. HOW DO WE START BLENDING PARENTING STYLES?
Different cultures, religions and personalities shape parenting styles. One person may be more disciplined; the other more lenient. While dating, partners should begin talking about how they interact with and discipline their children, and begin looking for ways to compromise. Respect is the key to success, says Lauren Scirrotto, chief program officer at the Center for Child Counseling in Palm Beach Gardens.
“If you insist that all the relationships in your blended family are based on respect, you’re starting off with a strong foundation," she says. "The heart of respect is letting others express themselves and ensuring they feel heard, so try to really listen to your children’s and partner’s points of view, even if you ultimately disagree with them. Remember, you must give respect to receive it.”
A new couple should set healthy boundaries together for their children, Scirrotto says. Boundaries make a child feel safe because your rules mean they are worthy of your time and attention. But it's best to formulate them with your new partner away from your children so you can present a united front.
3. WHERE CAN WE GET ADVICE?
Triple P shows new partners how to work together as a team and support one another.
“New partners and biological parents should work out their parenting differences in private, not in front of the children,” Rodriguez says. “Children know how to manipulate their parents and will go to the other parent to get what they want.”
Families can try what’s called a behavior contract, which gives the couple and the family realistic goals to achieve in terms of how to communicate and treat each other.
In addition to Triple P, new couples can get tips on how to blend their families and find support through Smart Steps, a program offered by University of Florida IFAS Extension.
• Michelle Rodriguez, Triple P supervisor, Center for Family Services of Palm Beach County
• Lauren Scirrotto, chief program officer, Center for Child Counseling
• The Step Family Foundation
• Smart Steps, University of Florida IFAS Extension
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Positive Parenting Program, known as Triple P — free seminars and one-on-one guidance to help families improve their parent-child relationships561-841-3500 Website Email
Center for Family Services of Palm Beach County
Positive Parenting Program, known as Triple P, offers free seminars and one-on-one guidance to help families improve the parent-child relationship561-616-1222 Website Email
UF/IFAS Extension Palm Beach County
SMART Couples — free programs to strengthen marriages and relationships, including premarital classes561-233-1742 Website Email