There is something very unique and special about a blended family. The coming together of two homes, connected not by blood but by love, is becoming increasingly more common. According to the Stepfamily Foundation website, “The US Bureau of Census relates [that] 1,300 new stepfamilies are forming every day.”
“Family isn’t always blood. It’s the people in your life who want you in theirs. The ones who accept you for who you are. The ones who would do anything to see you smile, and love you no matter what.” –Unknown
Blended families have issues that are specific to the complicated nature of joining families with different biological connections and histories.
When I married and created a blended family with my husband and his daughter, I did not know what lay ahead of us or what the journey would be like. However, I did know one thing—I loved his daughter and accepted her as my own. Nothing anyone said could ever change the fact that we were now a family, unfettered by any stereotypes or labels, and we were ready to take on the challenges we faced.
As with many things in life, sometimes you just have to take things one day and one step at a time. Every family should approach their life situations and relationships from their own perspectives and beliefs, but when it comes to the complexities of a blended family, here is some advice to create unity within your home.
Assess the situation.
Every stepfamily’s situation is unique and is composed of individual personalities and histories. There may be an angry ex-spouse in the picture, a biological parent may have died, or there may be feelings of abandonment as a parent has chosen to no longer be involved.
Regardless of the composition of your blended family, it is important to fully assess each member’s emotional and mental status. Is one child angry about the new marriage? Is another feeling torn between two homes? Does a grieving period need to be allowed?
Once an objective perspective is taken, accept what is your family’s reality and work through the individual issues one at a time. Stepparenting (and being a stepchild) is difficult and complex, and time should be taken to work through the emotions and new relationships forming.
Focus on the marriage.
A mistake that many couples in blended families make is focusing entirely on the children and neglecting their marriage. As previous relationships and complicated child/parent dynamics are testing the family, the marriage is vulnerable and, if overlooked, both spouses may soon drift apart.
Issues such as child support, custody fights, stepparent roles and authority, and jealousy all place tensions on marriages and may result in parents feeling at times that they have to take sides between spouse and child.
Time should be taken to invest in the marriage and to have discussions in order to present a unified front to both the children and any exes involved.
Do not label relationships.
Here is where some families may differ, but labeling kids and parents as “step” may create feelings of isolation. For example, let’s say a mom and dad marry, both bringing a little girl from a previous relationship into the blended family. If the mother were to always introduce one girl as “my daughter” and the other as “my stepdaughter,” the stepchild may feel as if she is not on the same level as the biological daughter.
Comedian Steve Harvey, who formed a blended family with his wife and children, told ABC news in a 2009 interview that he doesn’t use the label “stepchildren” because he doesn’t “want them to feel alienated when I introduce them.”
There are factors to consider when choosing how you refer to your stepchildren and how they refer to you, but it is important to the success of your blended family to fully embrace your role as a parent to these kids and view them and love them as if they are your own blood.
Give each child equal time.
This can be quite a task when it is a larger blended family, but it is important for stepchildren to know that they are special to you and you value time with them just as much as anyone else. One-to-one time with every child is important, as that sends the message that you are invested in them and care about their individual relationship with you.
Make sure you go to their sporting games and cheer them on, just like you would your biological children. Meet with their teachers and show interest in their schoolwork or hobbies. Plan special activities together, and be sure to let them know that they are a part of every family time and they are missed when they are not there (if you have a shared custody arrangement).
Be consistent with rules.
Chances are that if you have joint custody with an ex-spouse, there will be different house rules between the two homes. Ideally, it is most desirable to have consistency with rules and routines, but when that is not realistic or possible, make sure that the rules are upheld, without showing favoritism, within your own home. All children in the home should have the same rules as applicable by their ages, and stepchildren should not be exempt just because they are used to things being done differently.
As two families join together to become a blended family, it will often be a shock as new rules are established. Some children may resent now having more structure or more discipline. Some may threaten to leave and just go live with the other parent. There will likely be a dramatic period of adjustment, but the key is to maintain fair discipline and practice consistency with all the children of the home.
Don’t focus on the past.
This may be the hardest suggestion of them all. Typically, there are a lot of emotions and baggage that come with divorce, especially when it comes to kids. Tempers between exes flare, past issues and parenting decisions are brought up, and oftentimes years of hurt are brought into newly blended families.
This residing in the past does nothing but harm the new family, though. Focus must stay on the current relationships and issues at hand, and not continue to harbor resentment or to dwell in the past. The children must feel as if there is hope and security in the blended family and not have to live in fear of continued fighting or dissension.
It has been over ten years now since our blended family became officially joined, and it has not always been easy. There have definitely been highs and lows, just like in any family. In the end, though, every tear shed and every sleepless night has been worth the moments and memories shared together. Long before I had my two biological children, I knew the joy of being called “mom.” Even though our oldest is now an adult, that word coming from her still brings a smile to my heart.
Are you part of a blended family? What guidelines have you followed to break through the complexities and stereotypes of a stepfamily?