Great questions and yes, I will do a podcast on blended families because the challenges you face are very unique and situations can be tricky to handle. Here are the first rules of thumb that can help smooth transitions:
Before the two families are blended and parents remarry they each need to sit down and have a heart to heart with their children. Give your kids a chance to air their grievances, talk about their concerns (big- will my stepdad like me or will I get a bedroom at each house?) If you bring them into the changes early and give them a voice, they are more likely to accept the changes and cooperate.
For the first months or at least year, the step-parent should not be the disciplinarian. The child won’t respect the stepparent and will most likely not listen and will get angry. The discipline should come from the primary parent and the stepparent should back him/her up. I have never seen a step-parent successfully discipline a step-child until he has earned the trust of the step-kids.
Two homes and two sets of rules is tough for kids. You need to be patient and forgiving. If the child wants to stay longer at one home than the other, roll with it. You need to give the child some latitude and let them make some decisions. Make the bedrooms as similar as possible and even though rules may be different, try negotiating with your ex. Say “Please tell me the 5 most important things you want me to support you in with the kids. I’d honor those if you honor mine.” Also – if this doesn’t work, then keep taking the high road. Parent with love and discipline in a reasonable loving way and your kid’s will (eventually) appreciate your hard work.
With your new spouse, do the same thing. Tell him that you want to honor his feelings and rules but that you need him to honor yours. Don’t get into small issues – tackle the big ones first and go from there. And – house rules must apply to ALL kids. You can’t have different rules for your two different families.
One of the best ways that I know to help kids get along with their new step-siblings is to get them to work together on a project or participate in a shared experience. Camping, hiking, going on a trip together can help show kids how to work together without being able to fall back on friends or their other parent. There is bound to be jealousy at first so don’t be too upset about this. Your kids will be jealous that they have less of your time and attention and vice versa with your spouse’s kids. SO, try to spend some alone time away from the family with each of your children individually. This will help dissipate some of that jealousy.
The most important factors in smoothing transitions are: be patient and empathetic, give everyone time, show your step-kids kindness, attention, and love. Don’t discipline them for at least the first year so that they have no excuse to push back from you.