“Blend, blend, blend”. This is what the gal said to me who was doing my makeover. She had dotted foundation all over my face then took a sponge and rubbed it into my face so you could barely see it. Then she dotted blush on my cheeks and said, “blend, blend, blend”, noting it was an important technique for the make up to look natural and smooth on my face. The idea is that blending combined all these colors of makeup so that my face looked cohesive and natural. None of the colors stood out as if they didn’t belong on my face. The same thing goes for families that blend. The goal is that no family member feels out of place and ideally there is a smoothness and naturalness to the new family structure.
According to dictionary.com, the word blend means to mix smoothly and inseparably together; to mix or intermingle smoothly and inseparably. Per Merriam Webster, the definition for blend means to combine into an integrated whole; to produce a harmonious effect. The purpose of this article is to help families “blend, blend, blend” and have some strategies to facilitate that process.
What happens when the blending doesn’t go so well
Recently, I’ve had a wave of blended families coming in for help to my practice. It’s been parents of blended families seeking advice and guidance in how to repair damage that has been done since the blending hasn’t gone so well. What I’m noticing as a common problem in the blending process is the discipline of the step children and that spouses feel as if their kids are being treated differently and unfairly in the new family structure. It is true that parents will react differently to their own children versus how they react to children they have become parents to. Relationship counselor and sex therapist Peter Saddington agrees that parents do make different allowances for children who are their own.
Here are some important statistics to consider:
According to MSN.Com (2014) as well as Family Law Attorneys, Wilkinson and Finkbeiner, 41% of respondents report lack of preparation for their marriage and didn’t plan well enough for what they were getting into, eventually contributed to their divorce. Parenting issues and arguments ranked in the top 5 reasons for divorce per a survey done by Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA) in 2013. Fifty percent of all marriages end in divorce, 41% of first marriages and 60% of second marriages (Wilkinson and Finkbeiner). Startlingly, if both you and your partner have had previous marriages, you’re 90% more likely to get divorced than if it had been both of your first marriage (Wilkinson and Finkbeiner). Half of all children in the United States will witness the ending of a parent’s marriage. Of this half, close to 50% will also see the breakup of a parent’s second marriage (Wilkinson and Finkbeiner). An article written by Elizabeth Arthur in Lovepanky.com says that lack of communication and unspoken expectations contribute to divorce 45%.
What all these statistics lend us to believe is that preparation, communication as well as the suggestions below, need to be addressed to shift the success rate of blended families in the right direction. About 75% of the 1.2 million people that divorce each year will eventually remarry. Most have kids and the blending process can be very challenging for most. Take heart, it can typically take 2-5 years to settle in and for a new family to establish its mode of operating well. If you’re in that time frame and reading this article, then hopefully there will be some important suggestions that can help smooth out some of the rough edges. If you’re beyond that time frame and feel like throwing in the towel, please try these suggestions first to see if the marriage and family can be salvaged. Professional help is always a good option as well.
1. Your biological children come first
In a typical first marriage with children, the spouse should come first. Supporting each other and being a united front with kids is very important. However, in cases of divorce and blended families, the biological kids need to come first (within reason, of course) and the new spouse second. I’m guessing the reaction to that statement has a few gasps from some of the readers. Let me explain. Children of divorce didn’t ask for the divorce. They didn’t ask for a new mom or dad and certainly weren’t the ones to choose your new spouse. They didn’t ask for a new family or any of the new siblings. It will still be important to be a united front with your new partner re: the kids which I’ll explain, but the biological children need to know that they are the priority and are valued in the process of blending 2 new families together.
Being a united front as a married couple is always important. So, in the blending process, usually done best before the new marriage takes place, means there needs to be a lot of COMMUNICATION and NEGOTIATION.
Here are some invaluable questions to ask:
- How are we going to co-parent?
- What are our values as parents?
- What do we want to be teaching our children?
- What are the expectations of each child depending on their age?
- How does the biological parent want me to parent/discipline the step kids?
- What are the house rules?
- What are appropriate boundaries for each of us in the family?
Ideally, it’s important to discuss these questions before the big day to determine if you’re on the same page and share the same overall parenting values. Sometimes when a couple is in love and moving forward in their commitment, these questions are overlooked due to simply being so happy and having the idealized mindset that everything is going to work out wonderfully. The blending process can be taken for granted.
2. Have a deep conversation with your partner
Make a list of your parenting values and views on discipline. Then share the list with your partner as I’m sure it will bring up valuable conversation. For blending to be successful, it’s best to have these conversations before marriage but honestly, if blending is not going well, then have the discussions now.
The negotiation part comes in when there may be some differences of opinions with the above questions. Decide which hills you’re going to die on and what are the most important issues for a functioning family and for the kids to feel loved and secure.
3. Consistent parenting style
We usually have our own parenting styles that don’t necessarily transfer well to the step children. It will be up to you (with help if needed) to determine what you can control, what you cannot and what needs to be let go. It’s very important to create consistency so that the kids can feel secure in the new arrangement. Lack of consistency can lead to feelings of insecurity and confusion.
4. Biological parent must have the final word in parenting decisions
Ultimately, I recommend the biological parent have the final word on how their child is parented and disciplined so that it removes bitterness and resentment from the step parent toward the child and from the child toward the step parent. There may be times you must agree to disagree and then the biological parent has the final word when it comes to their child.
5. Family therapy for the complete blended family
Once the communication and negotiation has been established it’s much easier to then support each other and back each other in the parenting and discipline process. It’s also beneficial to have family therapy with all the blended parties present. It gives everyone an opportunity to participate, share thoughts and feelings, concerns, etc. and it creates an environment to talk about the transition process.
I would also recommend the following:
- Continue to have one on one time with your biological children
- Always find something positive about the step kids and communicate that to them and your spouse.
- Never say anything negative about your spouse’s ex in front of the kids. That would be a quick way to become an enemy of the child.
- Support each other in this process. It can be done!
- Don’t rush the blending process. It cannot be forced.
Take a deep breath and try some of the suggestions above. Seek professional help if needed and know that you’re not alone. I believe that when divorce happens and families must break up, there is an opportunity to blend a new family and there can be redemption and a host of new blessings that occur. Be open to the process and blend, blend, blend.