10 Steps to a Blended Family
Dear prospective Step-Parent,
Glad you found this site. Inside you will get a small glimpse into many different families’ lives and how they handle the challenge known as “blending a family”. Some on here do it successfully, some not so much, but by these examples you can learn immense amounts of knowledge. In this post I will give you 10 tips from someone who has successfully blended a LARGE family and some advice and things you can look for. First let me give you some background.
My wife and I met while we both going through our respective divorces. It truly was love at first sight. I know many of you will say it doesn’t exist, but going on 5 years now and that feeling hasn’t gone away. At the time my wife had two boys S6 and S4, I had one son S3, and my soon to be ex (SBTX) was 6 months pregnant. To say this was a volatile situation would be putting it mildly. So this leads me to my first piece of advice:
1) Get your life together and your past wrapped up BEFORE you get serious.
If you two really love each other. Take some time apart to get your affairs in order, finish your divorce and get some financial breathing room.
Now, we didn’t do this and it did end up working out, but to say the situation above (pregnant ex, divorce proceedings, etc) put a strain on our relationship (and still does to an extent) would be an understatement. I think there were at least 2 occasions where we almost broke up. Finish that divorce, get your legal and financial affairs in order then work on your relationship. This is a modification of the final step in this article, but the premise still holds. If you are not together before you begin a relationship it makes a hard situation even harder.
2) Don’t introduce your children to your SO until you have been together for at least 6 months. You want to make sure this person is the one, or at least that they are going to be around long term
3) Don’t introduce your children to your SO as your SO, introduce them as your friend.
Do not DATE in front of the children until you ARE sure this is the one. Only once you are sure this person is the one, then you can be romantic around the children
My wife and I did not even hold hands around the children until we had been dating almost 2 years. This may be extreme, but it allowed the kids to be relaxed around this stranger in their lives. I’ve seen so many people introduce their SO to their children WAY to early (my ex comes to mind) and then break up. This causes your children to mistrust you and any future SO you bring around, so resist the urge! Once my wife and I were together for about 2 ½ years, about a year of which we dated in front of the kids, we began to talk about blending our families.
4) Talk to your SO and set up the ground rules for the type family you want to be, BEFORE you commit to marriage.
My wife and I decided we wanted a big blended family. When we had all of the kids they would be treated as OUR kids. We would do things together as a family, not as separate entities. There would be occasions where we could spend time with just one set of kids, but when we were all together we would be a family. This may not work for everyone. Since I have my kids 50/50 and she had hers 80/20 it made sense for us. This is something that may work for you, but for the love of everything holy decide that NOW before you make the walk down the aisle. Here you should decide discipline roles, financials, child care etc. etc.
5) Know what kind of parent you are marrying.
Are your soon to be step kids unruly brats that are super disrespectful to you and maybe even destructive or dangerous? Guess what? The love of your life contributed to that. If he/she doesn’t stand up to them before you marry them and have a plan to fix them, it’s not going to magically change when you get married. If anything it will get way worse. What you see in those step kids is a direct result of your SO’s parenting or lack thereof. Keep that in mind before you commit to parenting with them!
6) Your SO and their kids come as a package deal.
To me this is the most disturbing thing I read on this site: the advice to detach from your step-kids. You SO comes with children, if you go into the marriage expecting to be able to live a child free life, STOP now and find someone who doesn’t have kids. At the very least this is a decision you and your SO need to make before getting married, because once you do the kids come as part of the deal. If they are disrespectful, unruly, destructive etc, see step #5 because once you get married you only have yourself to blame for getting involved with someone who clearly doesn’t parent the way you want to.
7) Make the acclamation period slow and ramp up closer to getting married.
Remember that when you are blending a family it’s new for EVERYONE. It’s not just you that needs to adjust to new people, new roles, and new family dynamics. The kids are going through the same thing. If you as an adult are having trouble coping with it, how do you expect a small child that has just witnessed their parents breaking apart to cope with it? Start off slow. Start with a few “play dates” where you spend a couple of hours a week at the new residence as a family. At first let each bio-parent discipline their bio-kids. Learn what works, learn what differences you have and then begin to implement those discipline and parenting tactics in future play dates. Ramp up to an overnight once a month, then a couple times a week. I would advise that after this ramp up period you actually live together for a period of time before the wedding (even if it’s a couple months). This slow ramp up period will give everyone time to adjust.
Be patient, work together, this takes time.
Don’t expect to turn a light switch on overnight and you will wake up with a perfectly blended family where everyone his happy. This takes time. Once you are all under one roof, expect there to be problems and issues EVERY.SINGLE.DAY. Right before my wife and I got married, her mom passed away. Not only did it leave my wife without a mother, it left us with two more mouths to feed: her brother and sister (16 and 12 respectively). We now had 6 kids, instead of 4. If you love the person you are marrying, you will be able to work through these issues together, but be patient. My wife and I started blending our families 3 years ago…and its still a learning and adjustment process every single day.
You are going to screw up, it’s a fact of life, when you do, fix it and don’t do it again. If you do it again, keep fixing it. If you keep doing it, find out why when you talk to your spouse, which brings me to #9
9) Communicate with and trust your spouse
I cannot stress this enough. As with anything, communication is key. Remember you didn’t build this family up with your spouse, you threw it together with pieces and parts left over from previous families. If you don’t communicate, if you don’t trust your spouse, these pieces/parts will not hold together. You must present a united front to ALL of your children. If you don’t want your SO to discipline your kids, you better be damn sure you communicated that early, like in step 4. If you have gotten this far and still don’t agree on the family dynamic, you are playing with a house of cards that will topple any day.
10) Make your relationship with your spouse THE priority.
This is the last and most important step. It should probably be first as it is the cornerstone for EVERYTHING else that comes with it. This advice should apply to ALL parents, not just step parents. In fact I am going to put in a paragraph all alone:
Your relationship with your spouse is not just A priority, it is THE priority.
If you have ever flown, you know that when they talk about the oxygen masks coming down they always say: “Adjust your mask first before helping others adjust theirs.” Why? Because if you pass out due to lack of oxygen, you are useless to those around you who do need your help. This is the greatest analogy I can provide. Like step one, if your relationship with your new spouse is not good, nothing that comes out of it will be either. You are a couple with a built in family. You didn’t get years alone together to build up your relationship before the daily trials with a family start. You are smack dab in the center of life’s circus. If you do not take time EVERY DAY to be a couple instead of just Mom and Dad, that circus will run you ragged and rip you apart. You will run out of oxygen long before you can help the kids you agreed to be in a family with when you married your spouse. Not to mention, once the kids move out, what kind of relationship will you have with your spouse?
I hope these point help. I am saddened by the desperation in some of your posts. Please feel free to comment below to help improve this list.