Blending Families

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Dr. Linda Mintle answers your questions each month in the "Real Life Solutions" department of ParentLife magazine. This month Dr. Linda answers questions about losing baby weight and minimizing frustration due to the "terrible 2s." Each month we post an extra question on the blog. In this month’s extra questions, Dr. Mintle gives some advice about blending families.

Q: I am a divorced single mom of a 4- and 6-year old, but I am about to remarry. Right now, my children are stable and I am worried about blending two families. My fiancé has a 9- and 10-year old. What do I need to know in order to make a smooth transition for all the kids?

A: Blending families is a complex process and takes time. Your concern is good considering divorce destabilizes children and requires a new adjustment. When you remarry, your children will be destabilized once again. The following list covers the big issues involved.

Blending families is easier in the following situations.

  • There is a reasonable interval between marriages, allowing children and you to grieve losses. People do not always give themselves enough time to grieve losses before moving on to new relationships. Do not be in a hurry to remarry if enough time has not passed.
  • Custody changes at the time of remarriage. If you can work out custody issues before the remarriage, it helps minimize the number of changes the children must undergo.
  • Both extended families approve of the remarriage. The more buy in from your extended families, the more support, encouragement, and help they will offer.
  • Children have access to biological parents. Make sure your children know they will still see their biological father.
  • Ex-spouse conflict over children is minimal. The more you can problem-solve with an ex-spouse and develop a system that works, the better.
  • Your children are younger than teens. The older the child, the harder it is to adjust to a new family.
  • You allow an adjustment time of two to four years. This may sound like forever, but it takes time for adjustments to stabilize.
  • The immediate goal is mutual courtesy versus mutual love. Remember you picked a new family, your children did not. Children must behave and be polite, but do not force their love or immediate acceptance. When they miss Daddy, acknowledge their loss. Do not say: “You have another daddy now.” Rather: “I know you do.”

Many newly blended families hope for instant acceptance and intimacy, however it takes time for family members to feel a sense of belonging. Talk about the changes to come, allow time for feelings to be acknowledged and discussed, work with extended families on the upcoming changes, and keep God the center of your family life.

Send us your questions for Dr. Mintle! Leave a comment or e-mail us at parentlife@lifeway.com.

Mom, Can We Have a Dog?

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Dr. Linda Mintle answers your questions each month in the Real Life Solutions department of ParentLife magazine. This month Dr. Linda answers questions about kids using cell phones and when kids lie. Each month we post an extra question on the blog. This month Dr. Mintle gives some advice about getting a pet.

Q: Our 10-year-old daughter is begging us for a pet. I have two younger children and adding a pet to the mix feels overwhelming. However, my daughter desperately wants a pet and I am an animal lover. I am not sure about the added responsibility right now. What should we consider in making this decision?

A: Most children will beg you for a pet some time in their young lives. The main issues to consider are the child’s developmental stage and your expectations for taking care of a pet. Obviously a cat or dog would require care and attention — feeding, grooming, exercise, clean up, and more. Other pets, such as fish and guinea pigs, are less time and care intensive and good choices for younger children. They offer you an opportunity to see how committed to taking care of a pet your child really is and how long interest will be sustained.

Go to the library and get a book about pet care. As a family, talk about the needs of a pet, what type of pet you may consider, and what the expectations would be. For example, certain dog breeds are more kid-friendly than others. Goldfish or hermit crab requires very little upkeep and expense. Visit a pet store and talk with a friend who has the kind of pet you are interested in to get a better idea of time and care issues.

Of course your child could lose interest in the pet after several weeks and you may end up with the responsibility. Schedule playdates with a friend who has a pet and see if the interest in the pet sustains over time. Decide what you can handle right now and do not be swayed by the begging.

Finally, consider the cost of owning a pet, family stability in terms of moves and housing, the demand of time and energy, and the possibility of the pet becoming a source of family conflict if people slack off on their responsibilities. The benefits of pet owning should be considered as well. Pets help teach a child structure, empathy, compassion, nurturing, loyalty, trust, and responsibility and provide companionship. Pets are also sources of unconditional love and dependability. Pets can improve mood and blood pressure, increase family exercise, and even reduce stress.

Send us your questions for Dr. Mintle!