When it comes to stepfamilies, happy-go-lucky Brady’s are hard to come by – the complex nature of blended families typically involves loss, change, confusion, anxiety and distrust – not quite the “bunch” you were hoping for as a new stepfamily! However, there are some ways to make the connection of two families into one a smoother transition.

First, only introduce new partners and their children to your family as potential new family members when marriage talk has already been on the horizon for a long while. You and your partner should be as sure as possible that you plan to pursue marriage and commit to making it work if you are going to put your children through all of the changes that will occur soon after. This does not mean that you tell your kids you’re going out for ice cream and then surprise them with a wedding ceremony on the way home. Take things step by step: When you and your partner have decided that marriage is a very likely scenario, start by introducing your kids to him or her away from the home someplace fun, such as bowling or sledding – kids are more likely to feel ambushed if the first meeting occurs in their own home, a place of safety and sanctuary. Then, try inviting your partner over for dinner, and have your kids help plan the menu and make the meal. Be sure to reiterate to your kids that you want them to meet this special person in your life because you believe this person will be a part of your life for a long time.

After a few meetings with your partner, try introducing both families in a fun, neutral setting – once again, something like bowling or mini-golf is great, because you can have teams of kids vs. adults, which gives the kids a chance to bond. Follow this up with meals at both homes, maybe breakfast at one family’s home this week and lunch at the other family’s home the next week. As all of the important people in your life become more comfortable with one another, marriage will naturally become a question for your kids, and you can answer honestly that it is a likely possibility while also hearing their thoughts about the subject. If you’ve ever had the experience of being on a first date with someone and having your child ask whether this is their new parent, you know that it’s best to have a solid relationship foundation to avoid such awkward moments.

Do not rush into the marriage – it’s not only about you and your partner if children are involved, and you need to be sure that your kids have adequate time to adjust to the situation. Be realistic though – some children may take years to adjust, and for older teens especially, they may never feel fully comfortable with the “new family.” Not everyone has to be a Brady before you can go through with the marriage, but every family member should feel heard and validated if they have concerns.

Link of the week: REFRAMING-AS-A-BONUS-FAMILY

Next week’s blog: THE HARMFUL EFFECTS OF BADMOUTHING THE OTHER PARENT