Finding a second chance at love and marriage after divorce is a huge blessing. It feels SO good becoming part of a family unit again, while escaping the stress and loneliness of single / divorced parenthood. Phew! But like anything in this sorted life, uncharted territory can bring some unexpected emotions and challenges. Differing parenting styles, navigating the step-parent/step-sibling relationships, etc. can be quite overwhelming at first. Here are some solid tips that’ll help ease the transition and hopefully avoid some pitfalls that tend to generate conflict during that first blended year or two.
Blended Family Mistake #1: Expecting All The “Ingredients” To Insta-Blend
I’m an idealist and I struggle with patience. A pair of weaknesses that’ve never served me well when embarking on journeys like first marriages, first babies…you know, things you hope to be perfect, and joyous. After tying the knot and embarking on a dream life together, it’s natural for you and your spouse to expect and want all the kids to feel the same. But as most of us second (or third!) wives know, transitioning into a shared home, even when the kids are supportive of the marriage, does usually come without some drama.
Kids don’t always know how to handle feelings of jealousy over your attention (they did just have us all to themselves, ‘til now) feelings of apprehension towards their new step-parent and siblings… I mean it’s a lot for us adults let alone a six-year-old, or a moody 14-year-old. My best advice would be give yourself…and everyone in the new home including the dog…grace. It took two years for me to finally feel my family was “settled” in their new roles. Sibling-step sibling rivalry, resistance to step-dad’s authority/personality, “passionate” parental discussions on what present parenting looks like. (wager who won, ladies?) Just as time heals after divorce and loss, it just takes time for a new family to feel comfortable and truly bond.
Blended Family Mistake 2#: Assume You And The New Hubs Share The Same Parenting Style
Oy. This is a big’un. My husband and I married after 7 months of dating (Holy Spirt-empowered abstinence will do this in your forties!) and then moved our 5 kids in together with the naïve enthusiasm of those boarding a Disney cruise…”ready to have some fun, kids?!” Thankfully, we’re super blessed with easy, well-adjusted kids but I think we were both taken off guard by the varying differences in our parenting styles and philosophies. Levels of discipline, house rules (no food upstairs…really dad?) bedtimes, use of technology…these are not things we were thinking of when we when we are all twitterpated, planning nuptials and mapping out our honeymoon excursions.
Best advice in this area is to set aside one night a week for a “maintenance night” if/when the kids aren’t home. Talk about how it’s going, what’s been working, and what you can do to handle resurfacing issues better, as a team. Compromise is huge in this area, because it’s easy to become defensive of our kids and our parenting methods. Try and remember the big picture. In the midst of this ridiculous world, you found each other. And you’re happy. It might be more work than you pictured, but think about your single days, watching Netflix every night in your hoodie-footie. Re-centers my perspective, every time…
Blended Family Mistake #3: Tossing out Alone Time With Your Kids
There are varying schools of thought regarding how to handle quality time with each parent’s natural children. Some say it’s better to always be together. Meals, movies, activities, outings…the best way to bond a family is to avoid micro-divisions. I tend to agree with the second philosophy that recommends some amount of quality time spent with your natural kids, to let them know they’re still a priority and they remain valued, despite the extra demands on your time and attention that occur in any re-marriage.
If you work hard enough, you can create special times/moments with your kids without the family at large even noticing. For example, my 14-year-old and I always watch a show playing chess together, and everyone knows this is “Mom and Eli’s time.” I always insist on driving my 12-year-old alone to his basketball practice, even when his younger step-siblings beg to join the ride, because it gives me a chance to catch up (alright he’s a boy so it’s usually one worded answers and grunts but I think it still counts!). My husband does the same with ‘daddy and me’ time with his daughter. I wouldn’t advocate for separate vacations, or anything drastic, since the goal is to continually strive towards unity, but a healthy balance of togetherness/alone time does everyone some good, and adds a continuum of “normalcy.”
Blended Family Mistake #4: Expect To Avoid Ex Drama
I’ve seen it time and time again, with re-married friends. Ex-situations are as amicable as spring in Sweden, for years, and then someone re-marries, and it’s instantly it’s WWIII. There are lots of reasons for this that we can all imagine…unforgiveness, bitterness, fear and insecurity over a new step-parent in the kids’ lives. No matter the cause it can be so stressful and so ugly.
My biggest piece of advice would be this: don’t let ex drama come between you and your husband. We can’t control inappropriate behavior, boundary crossings, or crazy antics from our respective ex’s, but we can control how you respond as a team. If you can’t calmly discuss something related to the ex, silence is key. Journal your emotions. Pray and feel empathy for the ex, knowing that most bitter, angry behavior does stem from hurt or loss of some kind. There are so many diverse emotions involved in this area, but when you share kids, this is the circus of a journey we’re on, for now. If your spouse has a stressful ex relationship, whether it’s ongoing custody strife, child support issues, or just consistently uncomfortable communication, try to embody the role of partner, and advocate. It can be a challenge, but we don’t want to make things even more stressful by bringing our own set of volatile emotions into the mix.
Blended Family Mistake #5: Blame Yourself When Things Aren’t Perfect
As women and mothers, we seriously just want our kids to be happy, and our homes to be a beacon of joy. We want to be the perfect new wives, fun new step-mommies (I prefer the term “bonus mom”) all while sticking it to the haters being all, “whoa, second marriage and five kids….we’ll pray for you!” This can be exhausting, and it can feel very defeating when everyone in the house doesn’t feel and exhibit the kind of love and happiness we’re striving tirelessly for. It’s okay to feel disappointed sometimes. I think our innate gratefulness for finding a good man, post-divorce, who loves our kids can wrongfully supersede real and valid feelings of stress or disappointment when things are more difficult than we imagined.
I used to feel like an awful human for being so taken off guard by having a little one in the house again, when my youngest was the ripe old (and super easy) age of 10. Not to mention the youngest was the only girl, and clung to me like a sherpa on Everest, begging to play Barbies all the day long. Wowie. Sometimes we’re so worried about the kids adjusting to change, we don’t make time to adjust ourselves.
So here’s the plain raw truth. I don’t care if you’re Mother Theresa incarnate… it can be HARD to be a stepmom. We had our entire lives to know, love, adjust, and grow with our own kids. We cannot expect instant ‘sameness’ with our husband’s kids, and visa versa. Pray for strength, and for a more open, giving heart, daily. Reject feelings of guilt or inadequacy and give yourself a break. Bubble baths, gel manis, and mommies nights out a must.
No one prays for divorce, and blended families are not God’s ideal plan. But He is faithful and always so good, and when he brings families together, even post-divorce, it will be a beautiful, blessed journey. Just hang in, don’t stop praying, and exercise faith that in time, things really will feel easier. Even Barbie agrees.
For more encouragement on this topic, check out “5 Things To Remember If You’re An Imperfect Mom“
Check out Focus on the Family’s “The Blended Marriage“ book for more help with healthy blended family life.
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