No one said it would be easy. In fact, a few people actually questioned the wisdom of starting a new family. But, for the most part, people were happy and excited about our announcement to become a blending family because "we were just perfect for each other." And we are. But that didn't mean putting six (now seven) people together from two different families wasn't, and isn't still, a challenge. Perhaps some of these lessons will resonate with you and your family.
1. Everyone is different. Not rocket-science, right? But true. And in blending families there is not always the forgiving heart that normal (see earlier blog) families experience. It is much easier to be patient and loving toward the differences in other family members, when you can term the quirks as endearing because you see them as a reflection of a spouse for whom you still hold affection. Be careful about transferring feelings for a spouse who has caused you pain to the children who are innocent in it all.
2. You have to make room for the luggage. When the girls and their dad moved into my house, I had to do a good bit of rearranging. I had to make room for things that others were bringing with them. I soon learned what was most important to each of the kids, and we had to make sure that there was a secure place for these important items. But along with the things they bring, there is also lots and lots of baggage. Depending on how thoroughly you, your children, your spouse and stepchildren have processed the break-up of their previous household, there are more than likely steamer-trunks full of hurt, pain, and unresolved anger. Make room in the new family for everyone to unpack their trunks.
3. No one has to be perfect. Being a blending family often makes us feel like we are on display, and there are other people judging what we do and how we do it. While I'm comfortable with my own parenting style, there is another parent in my step-children's life who probably has different ideas about how to parent. While the step-parent may feel the need, nothing says you must be perfect. Give everyone the freedom to be who they are, warts and all. Understand that no one in the family is perfect, and no one expects perfection.
4. We will never be a nuclear family. There will always be things within each of the biological groups that are unique to that group. There are different experiences, a different family of origin, and different DNA that make that family who they are. Just because you have now joined together, let go of the expectation that you will somehow, magically, become nuclear. Allow freedom in the family for the biological group to be biological.
5. Make forgiveness one of your top priorities. One definition of forgiveness is: giving up my right to hurt you, for hurting me. Blending families are, by nature, the result of broken relationships. Whether through death or divorce, someone has been hurt, feels abandoned, rejected, betrayed or left all alone. Broken relationships require forgiveness. There are likely people who come into the blending family who are still working on forgiveness from the relationship that brought them to this place. The children who have been hurt are trying to learn to forgive parents for making choices they hate, yet are powerless to change. Spouses are working to forgive rejection and betrayal from what they thought would be a life-long mate. The hurt from the broken relationships are only compounded, when unforgiveness becomes the hallmark of the blending family. There will be hurt. There will be anger. You will not be treated as you think you deserve. But if you want to hang on to this family, forgiveness must be the standard. It has been said that forgiveness is a choice long before it is a feeling. Blending a family requires forgiveness ... from everyone and to everyone.
6. Forget the Brady Bunch. I know I'm revealing my age, but I spent Friday nights as a kid watching the crazy antics of a family that I didn't really understand. These two parents, who each had 3 kids of their own, got together "and became the Brady Brunch." With the exception of lacking an Alice and being short by two kids, that's where we found ourselves as a blending family. Only "the lovely lady who was bringing up two very handsome boys," and "the man named Brady was busy with two girls of his own." While I could really never relate to the show as a child, it took on a whole new meaning when I became a character in the plot. Every week there was some issue (usually among the kids) where the parents and Alice had exactly 30 minutes to bring everyone back to happy smiles and loving hugs. When we became "the Brady's," that was hardly our story.
First of all, we didn't have an Alice. And boy, could we have used one! Secondly, there was the issue of what to call the parents. The girls had a mother already and the boys had a dad (though he was deceased) so the whole mom and dad title didn't work very well. The boys called me mom, the girls called their dad, dad and the step-kids called the other parent by their first name. As I look back, this, in and of itself, brought division. There were biological lines in the sand drawn early, so when the inevitable "you're not my mom/dad and I don't have to do what you say" line came out we realized that we had actually fostered it early on. Am I suggesting that everyone be called mom and dad? Of course not. But realize, that there will be a difference in perception, although subtle even in the labels we use.
And we rarely had things solved and smiles back on the kids faces after a short "talking to" from dad and "hugs" from the mom. There are still issues today that we continually address as result of our blending family.
What I did learn is that over time, relationships begin to settle, differences can be addressed in a positive way, and struggles can be met head-on and resolved. The core of the blending family who finds success lies in the grace and forgiveness found only in Christ. No matter our circumstance, we can be overcomers when we allow the Lord to be the center of our heart and the founder of our home. Trust God, pray together and pray for each family member by name. Forgive even when it's hard and you don't feel like it and be willing to be open and vulnerable with those who now share your home. Look for the best in others, and don't forget to laugh.
"I've told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I've conquered the world." Jesus (as recorded in John 16:33, The Message).
About the author:
Teri is passionate about teaching, writing, and ministering to fellow sojourners. She spends her days working in ministry and her evenings and weekends being wife and mom.