Falling in love is a beautiful experience, frequently followed by a wedding or commitment ceremony, and then building a family. But what if this is the second time around for one or both of you, and all or a portion of the family is already built.
You naturally hope that the blending of your families will be a smooth process. You probably expect some bumps in the road, perhaps, but at least one of you is accustomed to the challenges of parenting. How difficult can it be?
As you may have realized by now, the road toward trust and family blending and bonding is a marathon hike of peaks and valleys. You might find your patience wearing thin more often that you would like.
To blend well, you and your partner will need to be very careful with the hearts and minds of everyone involved. You might not always know what to do, but it can be helpful to know what not to do.
In their desire to create a harmonious family life, many couples make mistakes with the best of intentions. Following are six of the most common innocent mistakes blended and step-families make.
Mistake #1: Rushing the Blending and Bonding of Your New Family
Expecting too much too soon can seriously affect the positive progression of your lives together. As both biological and step-parents, ask yourselves if your expectations are really fair to your kids. Your desire to see your love match result in immediate parent-child or sibling bonding could be too much pressure on typically fragile relationships.
Go slow. Really slow. Cultivate connection. Give everyone a chance to get to know each other through natural, everyday interaction. It’s okay if you don’t love each other yet. Strive for respect and a solid working relationship. Allow time to work for you.
Mistake#2: Setting the Speed Too High
Avoid putting your family through the blending intensity of a Nutri Ninja. Think slow cooker instead. Your goal is not to make everyone the same, but to honor each family member's individuality
A compassionate “crock pot” attempt at connections will support a better sense of safety and permission to adjust. Seek to warm up to each other, softening and melting defenses with tons of tolerance, affection, and humor.. In time, trust and friendship are more likely to create the roots from which deeper family bonds can bloom.
Mistake #3: Failing to Recognize that a “Hope for the Best” Household Leads to Chaos
To blindly assume that your combined household will just come together can take you down a rabbit hole of miscommunication and relational upset.
It is vital for you and your partner to be a compassionate, communicative support for each other and for your kids. It is wise to set expectations for your home and be very clear about what they are.
Make conscious decisions about all aspects of co-parenting, including discipline. Flexibility is easier to incorporate when you have guidelines in place.
Awkwardness, irritation, and tension come with blending territory. However, a distinct plan with actionable goals, will help prevent communication breakdown and frequent blow-ups.
Mistake #4: Communicating Control Rather than Compassionate Leadership
Too many blended families, out of frustration or fear, become joyless, dictatorial, and controlling. This outcome will weigh heavily on the marriage and weaken any chance at family unification.
Fear that things will never come together may be driving you or other family members toward a demanding or disrespectful attitude toward each other. Try to dial back the need to fix everything right now and look closely at your own behavior. Soothe tensions and lighten up a bit.
Here are few ideas:
- Ask more questions and assume less
- Establish ground rules and accountability instead of making demands
- Demonstrate routine interest and respect rather than imposing yourself on each other's space or time
Mistake #5: Attempting to Repeal and Replace a Former Family
You and your new spouse may wish to put the past behind you. You past relationships might have been rocky and painful.
For children, however, the past may be where their happiest memories, traditions, or long-cherished hopes for parental reconciliation lie. It’s vital to not trample on their memories of the past as you look to create something new.
Be sensitive to comforting rituals. Honor biological connections. Respect that an older teen may not prioritize blending. Approach each family member’s view of the past kindly. Reassure them that you are not attempting to force amnesia regarding their former family lives. Then be sure to honor your word with compassion and thoughtfulness.
Mistake #6: Blending without Backup
Too many blended families become casualties of their own secrecy and shame. This may prevent getting the kind of support you need to make lasting, positive changes and growth. Everyone in your house has experienced some level of heartbreak because of death or divorce. You or they may fear the emotional risks of building a whole new family unit.
An objective party can help you deal with those fears and facilitate communication. Don’t hesitate to seek therapeutic help for concerns related to the ages of your children, boundaries, disciplinary matters, and the legal issues that often accompany many blended households.
In fact, your willingness to incorporate family counseling may send the most loving and encouraging message possible.
So, when you hear “blended family,” think of the valuable blend of people, personalities, and pasts you’ve brought together.
You needn’t force each other into Brady Bunch bliss. Instead, reach out in grace and kindness. Offer each other patience and persevere together. Those lessons are the best gifts of any family. They may not come easily or quickly, but that’s okay. You are a family worth the work.