In Harper Lee’s award-winning novel To Kill A Mockingbird, Atticus Finch states “’You can choose your friends but you sho’ can’t choose your family”. While this can be true for the children who are a part of a blended family, the sentiment may be a bit skewed. Technically, by marrying this other person, you are choosing their new guardian, step-relatives, and potential siblings. This transition can be difficult, especially for an only child. Thus, for those blending families with an only child, how do you make the transition easier?
Why Is It So Hard Blending Families With An Only Child?
Whether your first relationship ended due to divorce or death, your child is going through a loss. Their whole universe has already been turned upside down and now you are bringing in what is essentially a replacement for their original parent.
This adjustment will not only alter their living situation but their relationship with you. Children thrive on consistency. Thus, this change can bring stress, depression, anxiety, and even resentment.
According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, “It may take 1 to 2 years for the blended families [to] fully adjust”. While this seems like an exorbitant amount of time, remember that you are making this decision for them, so be patient. Next, be open and honest prior to the adjustment being made.
1. Talk About Expanding Your Family
Modern Family is an award-winning sitcom that displays exactly what it is like to be a part of a blended family with an only child. The character Manny has to not only gain his footing in a new household, but also a new country. The family is eclectic and eccentric, but also loving and supportive.
You want your child to see this merging of families as an opportunity for more love, friendship, and comradery. Disfunction is inevitable in any family. Everyone is not always going to get along and that is okay.
During this transition, your child will likely feel like they are losing control. Therefore, it is imperative that when you start considering moving forward in your relationship, you discuss it with the one other person who it is going to impact also — the child.
Present the situation, how you feel, and acknowledge that this decision will affect them too. Inquire about their feelings, concerns, and trepidations. Let them feel heard and validated. Then, find ways to resolve the issues that they have with this colossal change.
2. Discuss Your Significant Other’s Role
Blending families, especially with an only child, will completely change the household dynamic. You never want your child to feel as if they are stepping on eggshells in their own home so it is important to discuss your significant other’s new role in their life.
Make it clear that this person is not a replacement for your child’s biological parent. Instead, they are a confidant, a friend, and a person who will always be in their corner. They will also be a supervisor and caretaker.
It is also important that your child understands that while this person is not the original parent, they still need to respect them in the same manner. The role of a parent is to be a protector and there will be times when they will have to put their foot down. During these moments, it is imperative that your child listens to what they have to say.
3. Talk About Discipline
Discipline should always be handled by the original parent for the first few years unless something drastic happens when you are away.
Moreover, when you all move into the same household, it is imperative that you go over family rules. This can help to prevent misbehavior when you are not around.
Furthermore, without repercussions, a child will likely try to bend the expectations you have put in place. Establish punishments before infractions occur. This gives your spouse the ability to discipline without actually having to be the disciplinarian. This can facilitate a healthier exchange and help to avoid the “You are not my real dad” comments.
4. Make Time For You And Your Child
The transition from a single-parent household to a dual-parent home can be quite an adjustment. Your child is accustomed to being the focal point and now they are turning into a third wheel. Therefore, it is extremely important that you continue to make your relationship with them a priority.
This should not only include time as a family unit, but also separate periods for the two of you to have private moments. By doing this, you give them the opportunity to discuss the frustrations they may have with their new step-parent, questions about how things will continue to change over time, and their feelings about the blending of your families.
While your spouse may feel left out in these moments, it is important to give your child a safe environment to talk openly.
5. Make Time For Bonding
Your spouse and your child are not going to form a bond overnight. The expectation that they will become best friends right off the bat is unreasonable. This relationship may take months, if not years, to get to a good spot. However, without private interaction, it will take even longer.
Your presence is the perfect buffer. The best way to bridge this gap is to find fun activities for them to do together that they both enjoy. This puts the focus on the pastime and not on the bonding experience.
You want the relationship to have a natural progression. Again, be patient and prepare for bumps along the way. Over time, things will get easier.
6. Let’s Talk About Siblings
If you are blending two families, one with an only child and one with multiple children, this can put stress on the single kid. They have no friends or allies in this scenario. You have your significant other and the other children have their biological siblings. This can lead to your child feeling truly isolated.
Therefore, just like they need bonding with your spouse, they will also need ways to build relationships with their new siblings. Find pursuits that all the kids can enjoy and make these excursions a regular occurrence.
Moreover, when it comes to discipline, all punishments need to be the same. However, not all of the kids need to be punished for one child’s discretions. It is important for both parents to pay attention to all of the kids, not just the ones that they brought into the relationship. Most importantly, NEVER play favorites. This will lead to resentment and a lack of respect.
7. Discuss The Future
What many parents seem not to do is discuss the future with their children when a big change has happened.
When an only child has to live in a new circumstance, they often feel it the most. They have no siblings to lean on and it can feel like they are going through the toughest battles.
This is why discussing the future and bringing optimism into the conversation is important. We all hope for a better and brighter future so what better way to do this than by coming up with a game plan on how the family can make the future be a bright and happy one.
You can talk about all the different things and places you want to do as a new family. If the child is in school, you can discuss what they want to do in the future and how it will bring the family joy.
If you can bring optimism in the picture, this situation of blending in with an only child can be an easy one.
The Future of Co-Parenting
It can get complicated when it comes to all the child’s expenses, events, and schedule. There are programs out there that help parents navigate co-parenting.
We partnered with Our Family Wizard to create an app that helps co-parents manage expenses, schedule events, and most importantly communicate.
Co-parenting is difficult but for the child’s sake, do it well.
If The Child Is Acting Up
Even though you wish the transition is done smoothly, your child might still act up and resent this decision.
There have been many cases where children try to break stepfamilies apart because they hate this new family dynamic. If your only child is acting out during the initial period, take a step back and put yourself in their shoes.
Discuss their actions calmly and constructively, but try to give them some grace until the dust settles and your new family finds a good rhythm. Let them know that their feelings are important and that they will always be a priority but starting trouble and causing issues in the family is not the right solution to handle this transition.
If they still don’t want to stop, consequences should be placed so they know that you are serious.
Final Thoughts – Blending Families With An Only Child
Blending families with an only child is basically a big team-building exercise. Each person needs to work together to build a happy, coexisting household. Patience, compassion, and open conversation are the three main pillars of success.
All in all, we as parents want the best outcome for our families so taking the right steps to ensure that is a must. Whenever you feel like giving up, just remember that your children are counting on you to be the backbone and stabilizer for the family.
It might be hard in the moment but you will be thankful you pushed through.