Moving in together is an exciting time, but if one or both of you has pets or children, you’ll need to make sure your home is welcoming to them, too. Blending families takes a lot of forethought and communication with all parties. Here are some tips to make it go more smoothly.
For many people, pets are family. If one of you is coming to the shared home with a pet, you’ll want to discuss practical matters ahead of time: Where will the dog or cat sleep and eat? Are there areas of the home that you’d like to keep animals out of? And who is responsible for feeding, walking and cleaning up after the pets? Will you need to cat or dog proof the house? Finally, how will you introduce the animals to their new home? If both of you are bringing pets to the shared home, you’ll also want to think about how you’ll introduce them to each other. It may be best to put cats in separate, adjoining rooms with a closed door for a few days so they can become accustomed to smelling each other. This is also a good idea if you’re introducing a cat to a dog. When they meet face to face, be sure the dog is on a leash and under control at all times to prevent it from chasing the cat.
Children are an even bigger conversation, and should be included in it at age-appropriate levels. Talk about what will change in the new living arrangement as well as what will stay the same. If you’re moving into a home where the kids are already living, it’s easier than if your partner is bringing kids into an unfamiliar home. In the first case, the discussion should be around sharing responsibilities for care, getting kids to school, and making them feel comfortable with the new living arrangements. In the second case, the discussion should also involve making sure children know there’s space for them in the new home. Let them have a say in decorating their room and any play areas. You and your partner should also discuss touchy topics like discipline, and make clear what is allowed and whether it’s okay for the step parent to hand out punishments like timeouts, loss of privileges and grounding.
You may want to reassure your partner’s kids that while you’re excited and happy to have them in their life, you don’t want to replace their other parent. Remain positive about their other parent in front of them, and try to be neutral when disputes come up between your partner and their ex. You may want to decide in advance how to deal with the inevitable you’re not my father or mother moment. Finally, don’t push to form a bond immediately; let it grow naturally.
If both of you have kids who will now be sharing a home on a full or part time basis, you’ll want everyone to know each other well in advance of moving in together. Make sure each of them has a space where they feel comfortable and can have some privacy; this is especially important if kids will be sharing bedrooms, and more so if some kids will live with you full-time and others part-time. Lay down ground rules for respecting each other’s privacy.
Finally, be patient. Not all kids will react the same, and that’s okay. A blended family doesn’t just happen, it evolves over time as individuals become accustomed to a new home, new people and new responsibilities. The important thing is to give everyone the personal and emotional space to adapt to their new surroundings.