We are beginning to blend two families into one. This is much harder than either of us anticipated. Do you have any suggestions on how our families can successfully blend?
Blended families make up almost 40 percent of all families in America. We are pretty sure that most of them were not prepared for the complexities of stepfamily life. Dr. Kevin Leman observed, “When two families unite, they don’t blend—they collide.”
Leman’s statement is not surprising when you take into account the challenges of dealing with an ex-spouse, parenting someone else’s children, deciding who gets the children over the holidays, and more. It is difficult to blend a family successfully, but it’s not impossible.
Below is information that we hope will help you create a pattern of success for blending your families. Since every family is unique, adapt the information to your own situation.
Give it Time
Timing is crucial when it comes to blending families. Generally stepfamily integration and bonding with a stepchild rarely happens as quickly as adults want it to. It can take a long time for a blended family to begin to feel comfortable and function well together.
Stepfamily researcher James Bray discovered that stepfamilies don’t begin to think or act like a family until the end of the second or third year. Furthermore, Patricia Papernow, author of the book Becoming a Stepfamily, discovered that it takes the average stepfamily seven years to experience intimacy and authenticity in those relationships. Quickly adaptive families can accomplish this in four or so years if the children are young and the adults are intentional about bringing the family together.
Ron Deal, author of The Smart Stepfamily, points out that blending families is more like cooking with a slow cooker than a microwave. In other words, it’s a long process, so be patient and allow everyone in your new family to adjust at his or her own pace.
Make Your Marriage a Priority
As a couple you should devote time and energy to your marriage. Setting a date night and keeping it and taking a few minutes each day to connect without interruption from the kids are two simple but significant ways to make your marriage a priority while modeling a strong marriage to your children. Keep in mind that children benefit from seeing you committed and happy together. Though you must make marital sacrifices on behalf of children, be unified in your sacrifices and still find time to be alone.
Now comes an even more challenging task—being at peace with those outside your four walls. Divorce doesn’t dissolve a family; it merely reorganizes it. Most likely, you still must interact with your ex-spouse. Research shows that one of the primary sources of children’s problems after a divorce is the inability of parents to keep their negative feelings about their ex (or their ex’s new family) to themselves. Children take their emotional cues from their parents.
Negative comments about what goes on in the other household just make it harder on your kids. In a perfect world, the rules and values in each of your child’s homes would be identical. In the real world, that’s rarely the case. The Bible says to “do your best to live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18, CEV). That includes your ex.
Build a Connection with the Children
A cardinal rule for stepparent bonding is to let the children set the pace for the relationship. If they welcome or seek affection, then go for it. If they remain distant and cordial, honor that as well. You may give a lot of time, energy, love, and affection to your spouse’s kids that will not be returned immediately. Think of it as making small investments that may one day yield a lot of interest.
Effective stepparents know that they are an added parent figure in the child’s life; they are not a replacement parent. A child who feels that a biological parent is being displaced will resist your influence. A child’s openness largely depends on factors that are out of your control. So once again we remind you that blending and bonding take time. In the meantime, however, look for the good in the relationship you have now and look forward to building an even better relationship.
Send your questions about family life to Bev and Phil Haas in care of The Lookout (firstname.lastname@example.org). We regret that personal replies are not always possible. Bev and Phil Haas are involved in education and family ministry in Cincinnati, Ohio. They have two children and two grandsons.