Design patchwork family

How does a good relationship with children grow?

With these tips, stumbling blocks in the patchwork family can be mastered

Children love their parents. And the familiar. But after a separation of parents, everything is different. If one parent starts a new relationship, massive changes are suddenly on the horizon again, with strains on all family members. Does the new couple move in together? Are other children coming into the patchwork family? Is perhaps one child just the oldest and suddenly the youngest? There are many, many questions. Which difficulties can arise and how it can succeed to strengthen the new family relationships, you can read in this article.

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Every patchwork family is different

The topic of growing together is complex, no two patchwork families are the same: Sometimes a child comes into the relationship, sometimes children from both previous relationships come together. Sometimes there are children who only join at the weekend. Sometimes a new baby is announced. The challenges are as varied as the variations. Children in particular often suffer from the unfamiliar situation. They are torn between the nuclear family and the patchwork family, perhaps struggling with fear, anger or feelings of guilt, having to get used to a new family routine just as much as to a new partner for their father or a new partner for their mother. This can lead to problems in everyday family life.

Common stumbling blocks in a new patchwork family

Typical triggers for family problems are lack of acceptance, competitive thinking and jealousy. Experience shows that especially questions of upbringing as well as the relationship between children and new partner often trigger conflicts in varying degrees. These are common difficulties:

Acceptance problems

If mom has a new partner or dad a new girlfriend, this is usually difficult for the children to accept at first. They wish for the old security in the nuclear family back. They may even hope that the parents will find their way back to each other. The new partners may then be perceived as "intruders" and this manifests itself in rejecting behavior, depending on the age of the children perhaps even in anger and provocation.

Feelings of guilt

There are children who suffer greatly from the new situation and believe they are (partly) to blame for the separation of their parents. This feeling is sometimes transferred to the new partner. The new partners compete with the familiar, "exchanged" parent. A "bonus dad" or "bonus mom" can never replace the original, of course, and should never attempt to do so.

Loyalty problems

Children have a hard time fitting in the new situation. Perhaps, contrary to expectations, the mother's new partner or the father's girlfriend is even nice and friendly. However, some children think that if they accept the new partner, they are betraying their own parent. That both people can find a place in their lives takes time and trust.

New positions for the children in the patchwork family

Among previously unfamiliar children within the patchwork family, the roles that each and everyone takes in the new family must be clarified anew: for example, between older and younger, between girls and boys and, of course, to their own parent and the new one. This often leads to quarrels and jealousy among themselves.

Different ideas about parenting

Parenting issues usually still need to be negotiated with the separated ex-partner if custody is shared. Nevertheless, conflicts about parenting issues can arise in the patchwork family if the stepparent has different ideas than the natural parent. This can lead not only to tensions with the children, but also to arguments between the new couple.

How can the challenge of a "patchwork family" be mastered?

What can help is: show consideration, do not rush things, talk a lot, learn from each other, negotiate with each other, give everyone involved enough time. The following tips offer you clues to adjust well to the new situation and to accompany the changes for the children as positively as possible:

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  • Do not rush
    It makes sense to let the new love relationship grow for a while before bringing in the children. A good exchange about ideas of living together, about the organization of everyday family life and about common parenting issues etc. helps to get the new family constellation off to a good start.
  • Understanding and patience instead of pressure and haste
    Children usually find it difficult to accept new partners at their mother's or father's side. Building trust takes patience. It doesn't work overnight, not even in a few weeks. Take it slow and give yourself as a stepparent and the child all the time in the world. Building a trusting relationship usually takes several years.
  • Restraint is the order of the day
    It is normal that children initially approach the father's new partner or the mother's new partner with a closed mind or with rejection. After all, it is a stranger with whom they suddenly have to share attention. Some children are afraid that the new person could take their mother or father away from them. In this situation, a lot of empathy is needed. Show sincere interest, treat the child with respect, offer yourself but do not impose.
  • No false ambition
    One of the biggest pitfalls is over-commitment by the stepmother or stepfather. This only creates pressure and, in most cases, is met with rejection. It is better to hold back at first until a friendly relationship with the child slowly builds up.
  • Do not take rejection personally
    You will not become a "bonus mom" or "bonus dad" overnight. As a new partner, you should not expect to be immediately accepted or loved by the "strange" child. Not even if you make every effort. There may still be rejection, ignorance, and aggressive behavior toward you at first. You should not take this too personally. Acceptance and affection cannot be forced.
  • Clarify the role of the new step-parent
    As adults, clarify with each other at an early stage what your educational ideas are and how you would like to deal with them in the future. What is important to both of you, what is tolerable, what is not acceptable? Especially in the early days, it is advisable for the new partner to show restraint toward the "strange" child in matters of upbringing, otherwise it can quickly lead to rebellion along the lines of "You have nothing to say to me!" Restraint is also called for because the natural parents continue to exercise custody and the new partner has no parental function. Nevertheless, rules for living together should be agreed upon that everyone can handle well.
  • Prefer no child
    Especially when step-siblings come together in the patchwork family, there can be a lot of arguments. This is often due to each child's fear of not being loved enough or of not getting enough compared to "new" siblings. Treat all biological and stepchildren equally as best you can and convey that each child is equally important to you. No child should be favored. Always reflect on how things are going in the new family: Who is having problems in the new family constellation right now? And how can this be solved?
  • Talk positively about the separated parent
    Parents always remain parents. The new partner does not replace anyone, but is an additional member of the patchwork family. This includes not saying a bad word in the presence of the child, but speaking respectfully and tolerantly about the ex-partner who is no longer a permanent part of the family. If this does not succeed, the child will take sides and side with the other parent.
  • The natural parent remains the first contact person
    Make it clear that your new relationship does not change your love for the child. Show that you as a father or mother will continue to be there for your child and love him or her just as unconditionally as before. Give your child space to talk confidentially with you alone about his or her fears, feelings and needs. Listen carefully and show that you take your child's concerns seriously.

Patchwork family is also an enrichment for children

For children, a patchwork family also has advantages, despite all the challenges, hurdles and efforts. They gain more caregivers and have a large family network behind them. Patchwork children often develop very high social skills in the new family system. They benefit from having to make arrangements, are considerate and flexible, and can adapt well to new situations. Many patchwork children are independent at an early age and take responsibility for others

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Where can we find help and advice?

A patchwork family demands a high degree of conflict ability and tolerance from all involved. What begins with an emotional high, can quickly lead to friction and disillusionment. If talking to each other doesn't lead anywhere, an outside perspective can help. This can be done with other patchwork families or free of charge at family and educational counseling centers that also exist in your region. There is always also the possibility to get professional advice on the Internet.

  • The free parenting advice helps with all family and parenting issues. You can find more here on the Familienportal.NRW.
  • The Federal Conference for Educational Counseling bke offers forums for patchwork parents. There you can exchange ideas online.
  • The Caritas advises advice-seeking parents in many cities of NRW as well as in person and online. To start the online counseling go to the Internet portal.
  • Help for couples with conflicts in the partnership or family also offers the Catholic Federal Conference for marriage, family, education and life issues (KBKEFL), in person and online.
  • The Evangelical Church of Westphalia offers a marriage and life counseling and educational counseling. You can find a counseling center near you at ev-beratung-nrw.de.

Comprehensive online information on the topic of patchwork and stepfamilies is also provided by the family handbook. Here you will find, among other things, further tips and advice on topics such as growing together as a stepfamily or my stepchildren reject me and much more.

The German Working Group for Youth and Marriage Counseling has published a brochure with help and tips for separated parents in dealing with their children. The guidebook Parents Remain Parents can be downloaded from the Internet portal of the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs.