By Sara Gaylon
Merging families is tough work. My husband recently found himself the stepfather of two boys, and the parenting learning curve was steep for him. The US census reports that around 1300 new step-families are forming each day. If you find yourself in a blended family situation maybe some of these tips can help you out.
1. People don’t blend:
I personally am not a fan of the name “blended family”, as it implies you can throw a bunch of people together, blend them up and make a polished finished product. This is almost never true, outside of television and movies. It’s important to recognize that there may not be a perfect finished product right after the vows are spoken, because people aren’t fruit you can throw in a blender. People need time, forgiveness, and patience to learn to adapt in a new family situation.
A better analogy, one used in Ron L. Deal’s book “The Smart Step-Family” is that of a slow-cooker. A slow cooker doesn’t immediately take apart the attributes of one ingredient and put it with those of another, it allows time to mix the different flavors of the ingredients into one dish, while still retaining the separate ingredients’ own character and flavors. Let your family be individuals, celebrate them for who they are, and don’t expect them to lose that to be part of a new family.
2. Parents parent, Step-Parents support:
This may be hard to take in at first, but if parenting standards aren’t set by the biological parent of a child, then you can set yourself up for disaster. Step-parents should support the parent’s decision, even when they disagree, and disagreements should be discussed privately, to present a unified parenting team in front of kids. It’s hard to come into a parenting situation as an outsider, especially because every parent/child relationship has flaws. Remember, relationships aren’t created in a day, and parent/child relationships won’t change overnight, even if you have the best ideas on how to change them.
3. Patience is Key
As with the slow cooker analogy, patience is the key to a successful step-family. Studies show that it takes an average of 7 years for a family to hit the “honeymoon” stage most couples experience when they start out in marriage. Have realistic expectations, if your family finds that sweet spot earlier, celebrate! If not, just keep working at it, remembering that people, especially family, are always worth the wait.