By Susan St. Clair
The concept of blended families is not new. In fact, blended families are so common that perhaps over half of your children’s friends have a different last name than their mother. There is no question that there are variables common to blended families, that can make members of the family feel as though they are alone in some horrifying nightmare from which they cannot escape. But as numerous as they are, the variables that haunt the blended family are rooted in just a handful of issues.
Although you might feel you are betraying your children by forming a close relationship with your new spouse, know that a good deal of your child’s security is wrapped up in the strength of your marriage – even a new marriage. The children have already seen one husband-wife relationship broken by either death or divorce, leaving their fragile world shattered or fractured at best. Your strong marriage can provide them the much-needed security and stability. Not only will this be best for your child’s present world, but it will provide the child with the best example for his world to come – his own marriage.
Be a United Front
A corporation, church or government cannot have a healthy existence without unity among the leaders. History records the chaos that can exist when leaders of institutions outwardly disagree. Our families work the same way. There is nothing more damaging to the re-structuring process of the family than to have parents disagree in front of the kids. Discuss your differences behind closed doors, out of audible distance from the children.
Be Like-Minded in Your Parenting
Biological and stepparents each have their own behavioral default. The biological parent tends to be permissive and the stepparent too authoritarian. When the stepparent becomes critical, the biological parent will pull to the lenient side. When the biological parent excuses disobedience, the stepparent will crack down even harder. Both are pulling in the opposite direction in an effort to balance out the other, but also threaten to pull their marriage apart. Stepparents do have a tendency to be too critical, too harsh, dwell on the negative, but also have an uncanny ability to see issues clearly, and their perspective is often accurate. Yet, biological parents are the ones with the relationships through which their children will accept and receive training. The solution is to get on the same page with your parenting. Agreeing on rules, responsibilities and consequences is vitally important to establishing a healthy blended family.
Leave the Past Where it Belongs
Truth be known, there is nothing you can do to change your ex-spouse. You couldn’t change him when you were married to him; you can’t change him now. But if you are willing, there is much you can do to move past the issues of the other household to focus on your own home. Don’t give the other household the energy your own household deserves or allow your ex-spouse to take over your home by holding on to history. Anger and bitterness toward the other household can inhibit your own ability to blend.
Almost any blended family expert or resource will tell you that it takes about seven years for a family to blend. It’s interesting to note that some will say seven is God’s perfect number. More noteworthy is that it is also God’s number for completion. Ron Deal, author of The Smart Stepfamily, doesn’t care much for the word “blended.” Imagine a bunch of people put in a blender and subjected to the ‘chop’ option, puree or worse yet, frappe! Deal prefers the illustration of the crock-pot, or slow-cooker, which gives a more realistic (and merciful) idea of how blended families blend and the time it will take. Be patient. You can’t rush the process, but there will be moments of encouragement along the way when you’ll sense that it’s coming together.
Know that good resources are available. Many classes and support groups at Southeast Christian Church are designed to assist with blended family issues, and they area open to the entire community. Call 253-8461 for more information or check out the church’s website at www.gfi.org. Or check with your own church to find out if they offer similar programs.
Susan St. Clair is the coordinator of the parenting ministry at Southeast Christian Church, mom and step mom to four children and Nana to seven grandchildren.