TIPS FOR BLENDING FAMILIES (from www.thehills.org, with minor adaptations)
- Blend at the speed of . . . a Crockpot!
Unlike the traditional marriage where honeymoon or glow of being a newlywed lasts for a year or more, blended families have to jump right in with parenting and can find the road bumpiest during the first few years. Ron Deal, author of “The Smart Stepfamily: Seven Steps to a Healthy Family” recommends the “Slow Cooker” approach where you adjust your expectations (and stress levels) to allow a longer period of time to reach your blended family bliss. Since each person and family brings with it their own traditions (and baggage) into the new combined environment it can be difficult for family members to embrace all the changes required in moving two families together. It can take 5 years or more of blending just to understand you place and new roles in the combined family. Warm fuzzy feelings and the “feel” of a cohesive family unit can take even longer.
You are not putting off the establishment of your new family. Rather, you are just extending the timeline for everyone becoming comfortable with their new combined family unit. You still need to go ahead and establish the rules and function of your new household, just don’t expect warm smiles from everyone during the early stages of the process.
2. Focus on your relationship with God, then your spouse, then your children.
Often times with blended families the needs of the children and step children clamor for the attention of the parents to such an extent that it negatively impacts the relationship of the husband and wife. Add into this that individuals who have been single parents often find themselves facing difficulties related to prioritizing their relationships within the household. We all want the best for our kids, but it ultimately is not beneficial to give them all the time and energy you have and leave nothing for your spouse.
Part of the problem here is that the Parent/Child relationship pre-dates the relationship of the couple and as such has more established precedents, habits, and traditions that are not so easy to discard. Add to that the natural resistance that uprooted kids tend to have and the hectic schedules that can be involved with “maintaining” all of the kids outside activities and you can easily forget about the priorities of the couple in an effort to keep the household “on track”. However, it is important that the couple’s needs remains the highest priority. Be intentional and consistently set aside some time for yourselves to visit and to play!
- Work hard to get to know your kids and step-kids
Since we all tend to carry a little baggage with us to second or subsequent marriages it will serve you well to put extra effort into understanding better how your knew family works. Try to discern personality types, Love Languages, emotional triggers, etc. while getting to their perspective of the world. Use that information to develop a warmer connection and more actively engage your spouse and step-kids (and your own kids too!)
Several positive side benefits come out of this intentional learning. Up front everyone sees you taking an interest in their world and that helps to break down walls. Inevitably the kids and your spouse get to know you and understand you better as well. Knowing and understanding the members of your new family helps you to communicate more effectively with them and customize your activities and new traditions for more positive results.
- Develop Unity and Transparency in Your Rule Setting
You and your spouse need to be on the same page and work together with an agreed upon agenda, and that agenda should focus on God’s design for families. You both out rank the rest of the family and it is important that all children know this. The authority parents have is given by God, and if you want a godly home, then parents and children must seek to follow God’s plan. Children need to get consistent answers and treatment so manipulation doesn’t work nor does running to their biological parent. Even more than consistency, children need to see God’s hand in your rules and in your application of them.
Italicized parts of Point 4 were re-written by Jim Dempsey. The original focused on establishing an “executive board” mentality when establishing authority. I believe the above to be a more Biblical approach.
- Work to develop new family traditions
As you try to blend two families together it helps to build cohesiveness by developing some new family traditions that involve everyone. Get the kids involved in helping decide some of the new traditions (where appropriate) and be sure to articulate that they are all part of a new family now that will have its own set of traditions. Different doesn’t mean bad. Often times a mix of the two different families’ traditions can be blended to form a totally new tradition. It helps to ask a lot of questions about why your kids like certain traditions and keep that in mind when coming up with new ones. The traditions can be procedural like eating dinner as a family at the kitchen table or special event related like deciding how and when to open Christmas presents. They can be as simple stopping for donuts once a week for breakfast or as involved as a complicated present opening schedule at Christmas! As these traditions you will be amazed at how the kids count on them and look forward to them!