Did you ever watch the show, The Brady Bunch? I remember thinking how cool it would be to gain a bunch of cute stepbrothers the same ages as me and my sisters. Back then I did not know anyone from a blended family and only one of my close friends came from a divorced home. By the time the last episode aired in 1974 the US divorce rate was rising (my own parents added to that statistic in 1978), and subsequently so did the rate of blended families.
Today, stories of couples being married for 30, 40 or 50 years are more the exception than the rule. Gone is the norm that predominantly married couples raise their biological children together. For a variety of reasons, divorce being the highest, blended families of all configurations, are becoming more and more mainstream. And yet, many stepparents and children still feel the need for support and direction while navigating blended family waters.
As a loving ‘other’ of a blended family, I have come to my own conclusions about what is most important when raising children (teenagers in my case) that are not biologically your own. I’ve learned it takes time and patience. I’ve learned that it takes compassion for all those involved during an ongoing transition. I believe it is an honor and a privilege, and damn hard work too!
So many of my friends, clients and many of you either come from, or are now a part of a blended family. First and foremost, I want to honor you for showing up and stepping up. Secondly, if you are still feeling uncertain while navigating this transition, I want to offer you support and my best advice.
You and your partner have to have agree upon rules of behavior for the home environment. The more clearly these rules are laid out, the better everyone will do.
The Bio Parent Disciplines
If you are the stepparent, it is most effective and least disastrous if the biological parent does the actual disciplining. You need to be set up as an authority figure within the home, not simply the spouse of their parent. Treating the children with the respect you expect is the best way to set up a successful relationship.
As a stepparent it is important that you support the children’s relationship with your partner’s ex., their bio mother or father. Any and all bashing is is out. Period.
Yours, Mine & Ours
If you have brought your own children into a blended family situation be mindful to treat all the kids fairly. The house rules apply to everyone the same. Favoring your own children will create resentment. To truly build a solid blended family, all of the kids need to feel important and considered equally.
Patience is a Virtue
Building a new family system takes time. Solid relationships are built through shared experiences and spending time getting to know one another. Kids will be working through feelings of split loyalty, especially if the divorce was acrimonious. Have faith that through time and experience, the pieces will fall into place.
When a stepparent’s desire for a quick connection meets a stepchild’s resistance, a power struggle is born. As the adult, it is your job to support and allow time and space for the child to process feelings. As you stay the course of being present and allowing things to unfold, it may not appear that much is progressing, but it is. You are showing the child that their feelings are valid, that they have a right to them, and that they are worthy of respect. Be the adult, make the child’s well being your priority, and you will create a trusting relationship.
Another potential danger zone for blended families is traditions and rituals. Successfully blending families means trying to honor each families traditions. They can be big, like how to celebrate the holidays or smaller daily rituals like reading books every night before bed, or sharing a family movie night once a week. Including the traditions and rituals that are familiar to kids will foster feelings of safety and comfort. This can help them stay connected to what family feels like to them and lessen the anxiety that change provokes. It is just as important that adult traditions are blended too, as traditions keep us connected to our history, who we are and where we came from.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, remember that YOU are the grown up. One of the biggest mistakes I see adults make is taking offense to a child’s reactions or feelings and reacting. I understand you have feelings, and children will test your limits, yet you are the adult and must be in control of your emotions and reactions, to successfully parent. Raising children in a blended family takes time and commitment to the family and to yourself. So figure out what you need; alone time, professional counseling or a weekly family meeting, and make it happen. When you are solid you have something to give to your family.
It may seem simplistic but I think it all boils down to this brilliant Carol Tuttle quote:
Your children are all doing the best they know how, and they just want kind, loving parents to believe in them.
So when in doubt, simply be that.
Now I want to hear from you. What is your biggest challenge when it comes to your blended family? Do you have any sage advice to give from your own successful experience?
Please drop a comment down below or on my FaceBook Page. Sending you lots of love and ease this week and remember, as always, take care of you.
Love Love Love
PS Want to read my blended family story? Here it is: My Three Sons
*image courtesy of amanda tipton