A blended family is not for the faint of heart, and it is an adventure that requires the patience of a saint, thick skin of a crocodile, and the capacity to infinitely expand your heart!
Here are 10 things you need to know to survive blending families together:
1. I love you! I hate you!
Divorce is the biggest emotional roller coaster you and your family will be on. Upon blending, each member of the newly-formed family will be in different stages of healing and levels of acceptance for moving on. Attitudes toward the new family arrangement (and you and your children) can fluctuate from moment to moment and day to day. Kids may perceive each other as competition for parental time and resources and you as the obstacle to their parents ever reuniting. Children may also view relationships with the adults in the home as somehow disloyal to their other parent, so no matter how much they may want to like or even love you, guilt may stand in the way.
2. Getting to know all about you.
Officially joining two families means that your commitment is not just to your significant other, but your whole new tribe! You will be expected to get to know the personalities, preferences (fancy talk for what they are picky about), and habits of everyone. Sometimes I feel like a contestant on a game show (“I’ll take kids with birthdays in July for $1,000!”), and I’m pretty good at it! I can tell which kid is creeping downstairs after bedtime by the sound of their steps, predict who is going to pout about what’s for dinner, and recognize who needs an extra hug.
3. There is more of everything.
More laundry, more food to prepare (and buy), more activities to run around to, more fights, more giggles, more reasons to cry, and more reasons to smile.
4. You WILL stand out.
Going out with your family may make you feel either like a celebrity or an oddity. I have eight members of my household, so we take up major real estate in the pews at church and resemble a clown troupe when exiting a vehicle. Some of the stares seem to question our knowledge of how babies are made while others try to determine who belongs to whom. We are a real family. We belong to each other. Questions like “which one is the real brother?” sting.
5. You WILL feel like a second-class citizen.
Your partner has a pre-existing lifetime commitment to parent their children, which means there will be times when it’s necessary to attend special events for the children side-by-side with the ex or to meet one on one with the ex to conference about the kids. This can leave you feeling like a permanent backup singer to the real star: the ex. Be sure to regularly take time with your partner to stay connected and have your chance to feel like the star that you are!
6. You will learn to tolerate the intolerable.
When you don’t share DNA with another, parts of the instinct to not eat the young seem to be inhibited. Somehow I am able to soldier through cleaning up a diarrhea accident after one of my children because they are “mine”, and I admit I may be a bit more tolerant of my own children’s shenanigans. When the dreaded teen monster emerges from the spawn of my spouse, I have to restrain myself a bit harder. I love my stepkids, but we didn’t have the opportunity to bond since birth and I don’t get the cute handmade love trinkets from them or hugs that I do from my own kids to balance out the negative feelings.
7. Their mess is your mess.
You can only control what happens in your home. All the effort you and your spouse make to create the ideal environment for your kids may fly straight out the window as soon as they return to their other parent. One home may have more highly-enforced routines and expectations for behavior, chores, schoolwork, and so on. In a perfect world, children would have consistency across all environments. You can try to communicate with your ex about how your household is run, but the ultimate decision of how they manage their home is up to them. Your job will be to put back the pieces when they return and continue on!
8. You will feel like a human doormat at times.
The word “welcome” may not actually appear on your forehead, but you may often feel as though people are wiping their dirty feet all over you. Kids are not always the greatest at showing gratitude; but, stepkids, in particular, may have even more difficulty letting you know you’re appreciated for all of the things you do as a parent figure in their life. Some kids may find your acts of kindness suspicious or feel pangs of guilt about letting you see the impact your love has on them. Hopefully, your partner takes the time to let you know how much your efforts mean to your home and encourages the kids to demonstrate their gratitude.
9. There will be bonus love and memories.
I can’t imagine a holiday without all of the kids together in our home, and I am confident that they all value the special family relationship we have formed. My heart is touched in knowing that the bonds formed between me and my husband with the kids and between the kids will last forever. I am filled with emotion when I see our two youngest giggling and playing in the dirt because I know they are growing up together and will have a special connection for life. Our two sons have also formed a special brotherhood. They are two boys who have struggled to make friends at school but who pal around together like two peas in a pod. Nothing beats all of us sitting around the dinner table together or piling in the living room with popcorn for family movie night!
10. Like wine, it gets better with time.
Blending equals plenty of ups and downs, but the longer the people involved are able to combine, the smoother and more satisfying the results. It simply takes time to get to know what makes each person tick and to try different strategies to address problems and perfect the way you orchestrate your household. Nothing worth having comes without effort, so you can’t give up!