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How to Stay Close to Older Kids in a Blended Family

When Naptime Conflicts With the Trip to the Mall

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How to Stay Close to Older Kids in a Blended Family
Photo credit: Sandy Jones/Getty Images

Blended family fun. It may sound contradictory. Certainly, anyone with children (or siblings) from different relationships knows the complications that can arise in a blended family.

The focus of a blended family often is drawn to the youngest children, who require the most hands-on care and supervision. How can you make sure your older children or stepchildren get the attention they need and deserve, and stay connected to other family members? Here are six ideas to get you started making your blended family fun.

Find Activities the Whole Blended Family Can Enjoy

Toddlers like playgrounds. Teenagers like the mall. There's not a whole lot of overlap.

But there are some activities that the whole family can enjoy, each in his own way. Here are some ideas:

  • A museum can be fun for all ages. Toddlers love pushing buttons and turning levers, while older children learn something interesting.
  • The pool encourages togetherness and helps the little kids sleep well afterwards.
  • Cooking together offers opportunities for preschoolers to cover themselves in flour, and oldsters to create a meal from the grocery store to the table.

Reserve Time for Older Kids in a Blended Family

Often, a blended family includes tweens and toddlers. Any parent of a toddler can tell you there's not much parental energy or time left after managing naptime, bedtime, the eating schedule, and daily exercise. So when do older children get some attention?

Naptime is an ideal opportunity. If your small kids nap in the early afternoon, spend that time bonding with your older child or children. It can be as simple as shooting hoops in the driveway with a baby monitor on your belt, or playing a board game in the basement.

Many younger children do well with an early bedtime. If that works for your family, you can spend special time with your oldsters after the little ones are asleep. Even if it's just help with homework or a shared favorite television show, they'll appreciate the one-on-one attention.

Get Out of the House With Teenagers

My husband and I have a standing date night every Saturday. I used to cancel the sitter when my stepdaughter was in town, figuring we would stay home. But now my husband, stepkid, and I have a "date" all together. It's such a relief to have a quiet dinner the three of us, with no requests for more milk, thrown food to clean up, or loud renditions of "Old MacDonald."

You may need to take your teenager to a nearby town, though. Many wouldn't be caught dead eating dinner with their parents in public, where their friends might see them. Or worse, playing a board game at Starbucks with the 'rents.

Make Time for Everyone's Important Events

If your blended family is all under the same roof, you probably have a mammoth calendar to keep track of everyone's activities and commitments. Make sure not to let one child load up on events at the expense of another.

Some elementary school kids will feel honored to be dragged to all of big brother's football games. Others will feel overshadowed, an impression that can last for life. So don’t overdo it.

Parents who live in another town than their child, or who travel often for work, find it hard to attend every soccer game or ballet recital. Ask your child, and her teachers or coaches, what are the most important events to attend. Even if you have to travel just for an overnight to see a concert, it's worth it for your child to know you care.

Encourage Strong Sibling Relationships

Brothers and sisters in a traditional nuclear family find it hard enough to get along. When you throw in different parents, and their complicated past relationships, siblings in a blended family may really be challenged to avoid feelings of hurt and competition.

That's why it's important to work at fostering strong relationships between stepsiblings and half-siblings. In the best case, they will be on this earth together long after we parents are all gone. Our hope is that they'll have shared memories, close bonds, and a loving sister or brother to turn to in crisis or to share a triumph.

Parents can help by:

  • Celebrating each child's individual achievements and talents. Don't compare siblings, even in a favorable way.
  • Coaching extended families to pay attention to older children. Grandpa's natural instinct may be to fuss over the baby and be awkward with the teenager.
  • Telling siblings who live in different homes when their brother or sister misses them and talks about them.
  • Connecting siblings through phone calls, email, Web chat, and even old-fashioned letters. Gentle reminders to call or email can help.
  • Honoring each child's connection to his or her biological parents. No badmouthing exes or criticizing their parenting styles.

Make Room for a Break or Downtime

Noncustodial parents may be tempted to make every minute living with their child a party. They send the child back to the custodial parent exhausted, off schedule, and several pounds heavier.

A better choice might be to let your temporarily larger family find its own natural rhythm. Tell your child it's okay to take some alone time. Make sure some afternoons and evenings are reserved for activities at home or even quiet time reading together.

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