After 8 years of experience blending our 15 children as one family, here are OUR 6 IMPORTANT TIPS FOR BLENDED FAMILY SUCCESS:
1. SURVIVE THE 1ST YEAR. A few weeks into our marriage we ran into another couple that had blended their family successfully. They surprised us with the best piece of advice we ever received and it didn’t even come from a counselor or cost us anything: “If you can just survive the 1st year!” The statistics are not good for 2nd marriages, ESPECIALLY ones that involve blending children. Most end in the 1st year. Give yourself a break and don’t take yourselves too seriously. We were in the overwhelmed stage when this advice was given. It really helped us to relax a little knowing that it is tough for others also, not just us. When things got really bad we would say “We should really write a book about this. People wouldn’t believe it!” That somehow helped us to laugh our way through the challenges.
2. GET AWAY REGULARLY AS A COUPLE. There are so many physical and emotional demands on your time and it is very easy to find yourselves acting like business partners and forget the real reason why you got married. For us it was critical the first year to get away at least quarterly and then at least twice a year after that, even if it was only for a few days. It is much more important when blending a family than it ever is in a first marriage. In a 1st marriage you have the time before a child arrives to get to know each other and bond together. In this kind of a blend, you bond as a couple at the same time you are trying to bond as a whole family. Don’t count the expense of getting away too high. Just do it. Consider it survival money. You must build and renew your own relationship. The success of the rest of your family depends on the solidarity of your marriage.
3. BEGIN WITH NEW SURROUNDINGS FOR ALL. This is one you may have hear a lot and it’s true. You may be in love with each other, but the children don’t start out that way. If one family moves into the other family’s house, car, etc. they most likely will feel intruded upon. If at all possible, find a way to begin fresh in a neutral place for all. We got a new house in a different neighborhood. Instead of fighting over rooms, we asked everyone to write down on a slip of paper what their 1st, 2nd & 3rd choice was for a bedroom. We were amazed at how it all worked out. Everyone got either their 1st or 2nd choice! Over time they will make changes anyway. We used the downstairs (where the children’s bedrooms were) to hang pictures from their childhood, including former parents so they could stay connected to their past and also get to know each other.
4. DISCIPLINE ONLY YOUR BIOLOGICAL CHILD. This is another one you hear a lot and it’s incredibly true! There is something so remarkable about a child’s ability to handle discipline from an already bonded parent, whereas coming from a new step-parent it comes across as hatred rather than love. Ease into disciplining each other’s children over time when you have earned their love and respect. It doesn’t come instantly or natural. Of course there are times when the biological parent is not around and something must be said or done. Pray first, and imagine this child in the infant stage that you missed. Walk on egg shells as you proceed. Big emotional withdrawals (or deposits) can be made in this tender time.
5. HAVE FEW EXPECTATIONS. The best way to not be disappointed is not to expect in the first place. We did not expect step children to call us “Mom” or “Dad”. We wanted them to use what was comfortable to them as long as it was respectful. Many children feel like they are betraying their other biological parent to use that title for someone else. Most of the step-children still call us by our first names. Some tried something close like “Papa” or “Momz.” Lee’s youngest suddenly one day began to call me “Mom”. It shocked me, but I realized she had that desperate need, so I quickly adjusted and got used to it. The same goes with other things too. Relax, and don’t expect this blend to look like anything else you may have imagined. Even though your values may be very similar there are sooo many family culture differences.
6. Last, but not least…HAVE REGULAR FAMILY MEETINGS. There is nothing that pulls people together more than everyone meeting together and having a voice. It doesn’t mean allowing it to turn into a negative complaint session. We chose to let anyone who wanted to express themselves, as long as it was respectful. If one person was extremely negative we invited them to leave and return when they could be more positive. Sometimes to keep it short, we asked everyone to express one thing they loved about our family and one thing they felt we could improve on. Great things happen when all feel they can express themselves and understand one another. At Holiday time, we ask everyone to write down several things that makes the holidays more meaningful to them. It could be anything from a certain food to a certain activity. Then we read them all and try to figure out how to fit some of each person’s desires into the allotted amount of time. People end up doing things they wouldn’t normally enjoy because they know it is important to someone else. It’s great! You can’t do enough of this.
Blending a family is HARD work, but is definitely possible and rewarding. Best wishes!