If you’re divorced and remarried, there’s a good chance you’re already familiar with the statistics: 67% of second marriages in the U.S. fail. Bringing kids from a previous marriage into the mix doesn’t make things any easier and in fact creates even greater challenges. About 60% to 70% of marriages involving children from a previous marriage fail, according to the U.S. Census Bureau and a 20-year Virginia Longitudinal Study of Divorce and Remarriage. That does not bode well for stepfamilies, which make up about 40% of married couples with children in the U.S. today.
So how do you beat the odds? Well, for starters, keep your marriage strong. Research shows that a stepfamily’s success is directly tied to the strength of the couple’s relationship. Keep in mind that while most newlyweds have time to nurture their own relationship before having kids, that’s simply not the case with a blended family. Parenting becomes an all-consuming task right out of the starting gate. With that in mind, the following tips are designed to help you and your spouse succeed.
Make regular communication a priority. Once you understand that some level of conflict is likely in any marriage, you realize how important it is to talk openly with your spouse. From financial challenges to disciplining children, there’s no end to the number of issues that can arise in a stepfamily situation. Be patient with each other, and keep the lines of communication open.
Agree to parent as a couple. In any stepfamily situation, there may be a tendency to remain more loyal to your biological child. That can quickly lead to bad feelings when it comes to raising and disciplining children. Be sure to talk with your spouse about how you want to parent your children, and make sure it also aligns with your ex. Your kids will benefit greatly from knowing you’re all on the same page when it comes to them.
Set some financial ground rules. This is important in any marriage, of course, but often overlooked. Will you maintain separate bank accounts or share your money in one pot? It’s important to come to terms over expenditures and savings, including where and how you will spend the money. Be sure to send a message to your kids that you and your spouse are in agreement when it comes to managing the family funds.
Develop some family rituals. The odds may be stacked against stepfamilies, but that’s often due to lack of patience. It takes time to come together as a cohesive family unit, which is something that occurs fairly intrinsically in biological families. You can, however, encourage the process by creating some family rituals that foster togetherness, from a regular vacation getaway to a favorite board game or movie night.
Above all, remember that your marriage is the foundation for a happy family. Spend time together without the kids in tow. Be patient with each other. And realize that it may take time for the family to successfully bond.
Dr. David Lowenstein is a Columbus, Ohio-based psychologist with more than 35 years of experience. He conducts individual, family, and group therapy sessions in his German Village office and also via telehealth. Dr. Lowenstein is also available for expert forensic testimony, and for educational workshops and presentations. He is frequently called upon as an expert source for print, radio, and broadcast media. Contact Dr. Lowenstein at Lowenstein & Associates, 691 South Fifth Street, Columbus, Ohio, 43206, or call 614.443.6155 or 614.444.0432.