What Every Parent In A Blended Family Should Know
I come from a blended family
Lots of you may find yourself in a blended family, either as a child, or as a parent.
That’s isn’t a shocker, considering that more than 50% of families in the U.S. are remarried or re-coupled and that we’re adding 1,300 new step families every day.
I come from a blended family, twice over.
Both my parents remarried and had children with my step-parents.
Thanks to my parent’s divorce, I’ve got four awesome half-siblings and two more awesome step-siblings, so there are positive things that come after the dissolution of a marriage.
The fact that many of us come from a blended family is nothing to write a blog post about.
Oh, sure, we could look at the number one thing we can do as parents to ensure that all children in our newly formed family “do well” in the two years after the divorce.
That would be something to talk about.
Or, we could discuss how most parents feel guilty following a divorce and that there is no shortage of emotions following the breakup of a marriage.
Sure, we could discuss how parents struggling with the break-up of their marriage will often work hard to resume parenting roles, put differences aside and allow the children to continue to have both mom and dad play a significant and important role in their life.
But that’s not what I want to share or talk about here.
What parents of a blended family go through
Rather, I think we need to talk about what goes on for mom or dad when they remarry and find themselves parenting their own children (albeit part of the time), step-children and perhaps a new flock of children born to the new relationship.
Now, that’s something to discuss. How do you, as a parent and step-parent, keep all the plates full of different kinds of children spinning in the air?
How do you bond with a new set of children and create emotional connections that are comparable to those you share with your own flesh and blood children?
How do you create a home that is full of love, fun and happiness as opposed to anger, resentment and fighting?
Sadly, I must disappoint you. The bad news is that I don’t know.
I’m not a magician in a circus.
I can’t understand what it is you can do to keep those plates (full of children) atop your fingers spinning at 300 rpm.
But, I do have some good news, though.
The good news is that YOU know how to keep those plates spinning.
Yes, I said it.
Bonding as a parent of a blended family
You know what you must do to bond with your partner’s kids.
I know that because you already do. Every single day.
You see, if you walk around noticing how difficult it is to connect with your new step-children, you’re going to miss something very important and vital to the process of creating wholeness in your home.
You’re going to miss out on how you and your step-kids DO bond, get along, connect and ultimately love one another.
I know this because I am living proof (albeit from the child’s perspective) that you can do it.
I can still recall the wooden spoons that my step-mom used on my step-brothers and me when we were “bad” and didn’t want to finish our supper.
I can also remember her breaking them on us, too.
Now, I’m not advocating you beat your step-kids into emotional submission.
But, what I am saying (beyond the fact that times have changed and we don’t hear much about that kind of corporal punishment anymore) is that there are going to be moments when things are difficult with between you and your spouse’s kids.
But, don’t lose perspective.
Because, if there are difficult times, then the opposite must hold true; there must be good times, too.
Noticing the good times
Your job is to make mental note of those good times and store them in your toolbox – your memory bank.
The reason is twofold:
First, you will be gaining practical and personal real-world experiences that you can draw upon, replicate or use as a guide to help you grow your emotional connection with your step-kids.
If you have a good time or moment with your step-kids, remembering it makes it easier to replicate in the future.
Second, you will help rewrite the story you (and your step children) may be telling yourselves – you know, the story that your relationship is mired in bitterness, fighting, defiance, resentment or anger.
Seeing problems vs. solutions
I’ve said before that seeing solutions is the most potent action we can take to counter our relationship difficulties. Think about it, if all we do is try to see how we’ve failed, gone wrong, or our life and relationships are full of problems, and the like, then that’s all we’ll see.
It’s up to us to turn things around and look for the good in our (and our family’s) story.
I promise, it’s a whole lot more enjoyable to write the story of solutions in your life than problems.
You, your spouse and their children, and your children are a family – a new family.
You’ve come together and decided to be there for one another, to build an emotional connection, and a life together.
It’s not going to be sunsets and beaches all the time.
There will be difficult times (hopefully without the wooden spoon), but when you begin to write the story of love and connection, you’ll see that love and connection will follow.
It’s also a lot easier on the spirit to write that story, too.
I remember my step-mom – the bad, and the good.
Oh, sure, I could do without the memory of getting spanked for not eating all my dinner (a bad reason to discipline a child, by the way).
But I also remember the good times.
I remember belting out Phil Collins’ “(I can feel it coming) In the Air Tonight” at the top of our lungs.
In conclusion: Do more of what works
In my blended family, we rode bikes together, went on family picnics, and my step-mom cheered me on at hockey games.
In short, we had fun times together – lots of them.
No parent is perfect and it’s hard enough parenting your own biological children with whom labels like mom, dad, son, daughter, etc. come naturally and require no second thought.
But adding a layer of disconnection by focusing on the problems of the relationships step-parents and step-kids face is only going to do just that – create more disconnection.
And, let’s be clear, no blended family needs more disconnection.
Starting today, take a moment to see what’s going well in your relationship with your step-kids.
If you go so far as telling them what you think is going well and why it’s important to you, all the better!
And, if you remember to do more of what works – be it singing, picnics, or hockey games – then have at it.
Those things are sure as hell a lot more enjoyable than arguing, disciplining or worse yet, yelling.
With your mental notebook of what works well, it shouldn’t be all that difficult to replicate your successes!
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About the Author
Jonathan Van Viegen is a full-time online therapist and relationship coach helping adults and couples improve one of the most important relationships in their life – the one with their partner. Jonathan’s approach has helped 100’s of clients struggling to maintain a lasting, loving relationship while navigating the challenges of parenting. Jonathan’s goal with this blog is to offer you a behind the scenes look at his life to show that it is possible to create the kind of relationship you desire – using simple skills that anyone can learn.