Combined, blended or step-families, call them what you will. Families that contain children from different relationships are becoming more and more common.
Combining families can be a challenging process. You get together as a couple and decide you want to live together. You both have children from previous relationships.
From the start the children just don't get on. They fight with one another and refuse to share. In short, they don't want to be in the same household. The stress starts to tell on you as you both try to support your own children while holding together as a couple.
Like many combined families you find yourselves having to deal with people's feelings, accept differences and conflict, and make adjustments. This might sound like a difficult process but there are things you can do that will make it easier.
The first step is to decide jointly, as a couple, how you want people in your new family to behave. It's a good idea to discuss in advance all the issues you think will need rules, rather than waiting till something goes wrong. For instance, are the children to have set bedtimes, will you allow them to eat only what they like, who is responsible for keeping each room tidy, and will you have penalties if rules are broken? If so, what will they be?
Depending on the age of the children it can be a good idea to ask them to help decide what the limits around their behaviour should be. For instance, some families have regular meetings where everyone has a chance to talk about how the household chores should be shared. It's also possible with older children to involve them in working out how decisions will be made in the new family and how problems will be resolved.
Try not to argue about discipline in front of the children -- they will be confused if you each give them different messages. If you can't agree about it as a couple, try using the principle that when there's a dispute the birth parent's rules should apply.
Learning to communicate well is an issue for most families, not just those that have been combined. However, the complex relationships and feelings in a combined family make good communication more important than ever. Being able to communicate what we are feeling to those around us, and to understand their messages to us, are important skills.
For instance, we need to understand our own feelings before we can talk about them to other members of the family. Learning to identify our feelings takes practice and we sometimes need extra help -- from friends or maybe a counsellor.
Sometimes strong or uncomfortable feelings appear unexpectedly in combined families. It's good to remember that there are ways of managing these feelings safely. For example, if you're feeling angry with someone you might say: "I'm feeling angry about this. I need to take some time to cool down and think before we talk about it."
Despite all the challenges, building a family for the second or third time can be hugely rewarding. In fact some combined families work well from the beginning. Others, probably most, go through difficult stages but sort out a comfortable system for themselves in the long run.