The Key to Healthy Blended Families

Blending families is tough. His kids, her kids, their kids – what are parents to do? First, let’s take a look at what not to do.

Diana Swaney, a children and adolescent therapist with Harbor, an affiliate of ProMedica, says parents who find themselves doing one or more of the following have reason to be concerned:

  • Talking badly about the other parent in front of the child(ren)
  • Using the child(ren) to take messages to the other parent
  • Trying to spoil the relationship between the child(ren) and the other parent by criticizing that parent’s decisions

“One of the biggest problems I see is parents who allow the reasons they are not together to interfere with their parenting after the divorce has taken place,” Swaney says. “Their issues with their former spouse become more important to them than parenting effectively.”

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Tips for making it work

Swaney says there are some things parents can do to help the children in their blended families grow and thrive:

  • If one parent has a problem with something another parent says or does, go to that person to discuss it.
  • Accept and respect that there might be different rules at different houses.
  • Find or build a support system so you have people to talk with about what’s going on in your family.
  • Make sure the children have contact with the other parent.
  • Help the relationship of the child with the other parent and his or her new spouse to grow or, at least, don’t harm it by criticizing.

How one family does it

Ceniqua Persley says she and her husband, along with his ex-wife India Flowers and her husband, put those guidelines in place right from the start, to make sure E’Meirra, the 5-year-old daughter of Ceniqua’s husband and India, grows up happy and safe.

“The key is communication,” Ceniqua says. “We address problems right away and we respect that India and her husband have their rules and we have ours, and we just get on the same page for the sake of E’Meirra.”

India agrees. “My biggest challenge was allowing my child to have another mother. I wanted my daughter to be happy, and I knew Ceniqua to be a really good person. We know this isn’t about us but about E’Meirra so we make sure we respect each other and, like Ceniqua says, we communicate very openly with each other. Really, I couldn’t ask for a better stepmother for my daughter.”

Ceniqua, India and E’Meirra

Swaney says parents who find themselves in unhappy situations should definitely seek help. “It’s not easy doing it alone. Everyone should know there is help available.”

Learn more about behavioral health services for families.