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The loss of a parent, either through death or divorce, is never easy for a child of any age. Younger children tend to warm up to new people more readily, but an already surly preteen might not be so forthcoming. Parents and step parents need to take an extra effort to help kids get through this situation.
Indian society is not a stranger to divorce or remarriage any more, with more and more widowed or divorced people seeking love a second time. But while these people choose whom they want to spend the rest of their lives with, their children often get pulled into the new relationships. Even if they aren’t against the idea of their parent getting a new spouse, the relationship is far from easy, and requires a lot of adjustment.
Things get even more complicated with older children. Preteens and teenagers are going through complex physiological and psychological issues themselves, and having to deal with such a major change can be doubly stressful.
While remarriages are on the rise in India, they are still much lower than in other countries. This means that there aren’t too many role models for blended families to emulate and they have to learn to deal with challenges arising from such situations.
Challenges of Handling Older Children in a Blended Family
Older children are often expected to help around the house, and they might resent having to do chores or run errands for the new step parent or siblings.
A step parent might try to act like a responsible parent by trying to set rules at home, but this can be met with aggression by step kids.
Older kids are usually at critical stages on their educational journey with important exams and career decisions. Additional stress at this stage can affect their academic performance.
4. Risky Behavior
Teens are expected to rebel even in regular families, so ones in blended families have all the more reason to. Disturbed teenagers and pre-teens are prone to indulge in risky behavior which can have far reaching consequences.
5. Relationship with other parent
In case of a divorce, the child might still be in touch with the other parent, the ex-spouse. This might lead to a few situations where he’ll have to choose between loyalties, which can be very stressful.
But these challenges don’t necessarily mean that it’s impossible for older kids to adjust to a blended family. Some well directed effort on the part of the parent and step parent can yield good results.
Tips for Parents to help Older Children Adjust to their new Blended Family
1. Focus on respect, not love
While you might be in love with your new partner, your child does not share your feelings. And in all fairness, love cannot be forced. However, you can insist on respect, like he would show a teacher. All you need in the initial days is formal, yet polite interaction between everyone.
2. Set down ground rules
This needs to be done with your new spouse, especially if his or her children are also joining your family. These should include sharing household responsibilities, since older kids are probably already a part of it. No one should have to feel like they’re on the losing end.
3. Leave discipline to the biological parent
However well intentioned it may be, disciplining by a step parent will always be received badly, especially at the beginning. Stay out of your step children’s discipline and personal matters like school, friends etc. and ask your spouse to do the same.
4. Keep existing relations
If you’ve already got an existing arrangement for your child to spend time with your ex-spouse, don’t let your remarriage change things. This way, your child will feel like he still has control over his life.
5. Limit outside interference
This is especially true in Indian families, where everyone has an opinion and is not afraid to share it. Try to limit too many extended family visits or family functions during this delicate time. The blended family needs to properly ‘blend’ before allowing someone in from the outside. Let the children go visit their respective grandparents, rather than asking the grandparents to come home to you.
6. Take things slow
Remember that this isn’t your usual family scenario, so everyone needs time to get to know everyone else. Include everyone in daily routines like eating together, but don’t force it. Let everyone make friends at their own pace. Every child is different and needs varying amounts of time to adjust.
The important thing to remember is that no matter how much you prepare yourself or your child, things aren’t going to be exactly how you expect. Spend a lot of time with your own child before starting a new family, so that he feels secure in your love and care. With mutual respect and good understanding, there is no reason that blended families cannot work as well as other kinds.