10 Ways to be a successful Blended Family
1) sod the expectations
So everybody will have an opinion on how you should live your life and raise your children and interact with your step-children. I read an article that infuriated me. Saying that calling it a blended family pretty much dooms you to failure… wrong, giving something a name isn’t the problem, it’s what that means to you.
2) what do the children need?
Be prepared for this to evolve as the years go on. Yes, fair enough if you come into someone’s life and they have teenage daughters who have been getting on fine without a mother figure at Dad’s house then, of course don’t waltz in expecting to be one. If the children are little then to help them feel secure sometimes you have to step up and love them as your own even if you don’t want to. You should at least try. I have always treated the girls like they’re my own. I understand not everyone can do this, maybe because I had adopted siblings come into my life when I was a teenager, and I loved them as my own siblings, I’ve had practice. I watched my Mum, love as though they were hers, even when it hurt. This does not take away from the fact our girls have a mother when they are with her. I do this so that when they’re with us, they are secure. The girls have more free time with me than any of the other three parents in their lives, just because of the way our contact works around school and everyone else’s work. As I have two little babies, I am the stay at home/work at home Mum in their lives, so when they are with us, they need to feel secure, and not like second class citizens. I plan EVERYTHING as though they were here permanently and as though they were mine. 3 and a half days a week I can switch off and concentrate on the babies. Isis and I text sometimes (she likes to check on the babies) but their time with their Mum is their time with their Mum. Unless hubby wants to bring up an issue that has come to our attention (at what age Isis should have access to certain apps etc) we don’t get involved in each other’s lives.
3) put aside differences/arguments to come together on the big stuff
Now I’m not saying this can happen straight away. There is a lot of hurt involved in a marital/civil partnership breakdown, especially when there are children involved. This one took us about three years to be able to work successfully as a team. When the children need though, it is important to at least TRY and meet together to discuss the issues. This doesn’t always work, and that’s ok too. You need to know when to just admit something isn’t there yet, and know that in the future you may get there. When everyone loves the children though, it is important to try. It does get easier. We had to all come together when Isis was having issues at school. School was terrible at playing both sets of parents off against each other to get the result they wanted. Only when we all came together did they take us seriously and efficiently deal with the problem at hand.
4) do NOT speak negatively about the absent parent
This is SO important for children. I have failed in this in the past when I’ve been angry about something, where I have voiced something around the children that I shouldn’t. I would NEVER say something to the children directly to bad mouth their mother. Even if the mother is out to get you (which hasn’t been my experience) and wants to destroy your marriage, the child does not need to know that. In fact if you think you can convince the child their Mother is evil and then they’ll side with you. Wrong!!! You’re so wrong. Especially at a young age, however terrible a mother/father someone may be, the child will ALWAYS look to their parent for affirmation, identity, security, stability, and it’s from there they form their attachments. Believing their own parent to be terrible is only damaging to the child and their sense of identity/self-worth. I appreciate this must happen more when the other parent isn’t in a relationship. My experience was that James’ ex is still with the partner she left him for. They are a happy unit together as are we so there’s no scorned woman. I do know that it was difficult though for her to accept another woman in her children’s lives. That is completely normal, but it didn’t last long. If you’re upset or angry find a friend you can whinge to, which brings me to my next point.
5) find a great confidante
As I stated earlier EVERYONE has an opinion, I have had clashes with family members who see the toll it’s taken on me going from zero children to four in a very short time, and I know they’re trying to protect me but when people think that you can start messing around contact agreements just because you’re having a bad week it’s not helpful. Find someone who understands and maybe isn’t as emotionally invested in the outcome of the advice they give. Look to those who may have walked the path before you and that are living the way you want it to work. You may know a lady down the street who has a ‘blended’ family and hates being a step-Mum. Now as nice as it may be to go and complain about problems to her, if that’s not ultimately who you want to become like, then don’t choose them. Just saying.
6) Get help
If you’re really struggling, the weight of issues is affecting your marriage, or you personally are struggling. Maybe read a book, go to a course/workshop, or even invest in some counselling. Statistics are against us here, but don’t listen to them. There is no shame in asking for help or getting counselling. James and I have attended two marriage courses in our time together and attended counselling as individuals and a couple. This process isn’t over. We believe in investing into us as a couple and trying to break the generational cycles of failed marriages.
7) your partner comes first
An important lesson we learned on the most recent marriage course we attended had a session on ‘Blended Families’ and they stated that ‘marriage only works in first place’. I have to agree, as easy as it is for me to say it as I don’t have children independently of James, but he also hugely agrees with this point. That doesn’t mean that it’s easy, especially if your children are older and see you choosing to stand by your new wife as direct rejection of them. This can be heart-wrenching but you are only doing the children good in the long-term if they see that marriage is a strong bond. Should be the strongest and it will help them to have healthy relationships in the future. Be sensitive in how you deal with it. Now I’m not saying if you marry someone who says “it’s me or the children” then you should abandon your children. I see that too much in society and it breaks my heart. In a healthy relationship though, that will NEVER be asked of you. Maybe when the child is older they may hate your new spouse so much they make you feel you have to choose. Be a supportive partner and allow your husband/wife to have time with their children away from you if that’s what they need, but the child needs to know that they will never come between Mum/Dad and their new spouse. This one requires working together as a team.
8) don’t try and replace Mum
Even if the child’s absent parent is deceased do not try and replace them or cut them out of your life. The children can speak freely here and always talk about ‘the other Mummy’, as they call her when they’re here, as much as they want. They may not do it often but if they’re excited about something that has happened some weeks they will chat about their other home more than others. Don’t deny the other families existence. People often say to me when I’m throwing the girls a birthday party, they have a mother for that. I am well aware that the girls have a mother and their time with her is precious and is their time with her, that doesn’t mean that we don’t celebrate milestones whilst they are here. Dad is their parent too, he should get to celebrate too, just because he may not be as adept at party planning as I am, or at baking cakes doesn’t mean we should ignore the milestones. I get it, not everyone wants to throw a big party but that is a personal resolve I have determined because I choose to love the girls as my own. I mostly can say that it’s true that I do, but as my own children are only really coming into their own and having more complex needs as they grow I’m not sure how it will all outwork itself, but I consciously put things in place to make sure my actions line up with my heart and intentions. This does not mean that I am “pretending” the girls don’t have a Mum, or trying to replace her. They know I love them and they know Mum loves them. They are secure in knowing that they are blessed to have so many parents who love them.
9) choose love
Your step-child may seem like the spawn of satan sometimes especially if you abhor their mother/father but they’re also half of the man/woman you married. When it’s really difficult and certain personality traits are clouding your vision… choose love. Choose to believe the best. Choose to see your spouse in them. Obviously this is very ‘turn the other cheek’ and is a lot easier said than done, but it all comes down to the end goal. Most of us want our marriages to work, most of us want our step-children to be happy, most of us do not want to be part of the 76% of remarriages with children that end in divorce. So, with that in mind in the difficult situations….choose to believe the best…choose love.
10) relax… it does get easier
Admit to yourself, this is flipping hard work and I’m doing a great job. Every anniversary is another successful milestone, every birthday is another chance to celebrate. You’re doing it, whatever form it takes or however it looks from the outside, you’re raising a blended family and you’re beating the odds. You’re not trying to be a FIRST family or trying to make people believe that’s what you are. You’re a blended family or whatever word you’d prefer to use and you’ve survived another day. This may seem strange terminology but to those of us who are in one, we know, it is not for the feint-hearted!!
*This post was fuelled by an article I read that shall remain nameless that I strongly disagreed with, this is my personal opinion based on various research and experience. I appreciate not everyone will agree but I have found these points to help me and as I pointed out, I am prepared for it to evolve as the girls grow and their need for me, or lack of need adapts.