Expectation is the enemy of joy
We aren’t the first to say it, but we agree with that statement. That should be the mantra for your blended family, at least early on. You can rid yourself of so much stress and if you remember those six words, or as Scott says, “death by expectation.”
Many couples enter a blended marriage thinking the children will quickly adjust to all the new changes, but there may be so many. Your family’s situation may change rapidly, but for children, transition is seldom quick. That’s okay. You are in this marriage for the long haul, and you’ve plenty of time to make this work. It’s a marathon, and you’re a team. So we encourage you as our first step to set aside any expectations about how your new family’s relationships will look or how quickly it will happen. If you force it, then you will feel defeated, exhausted, and depleted. Create a safe, secure atmosphere where healthy parent and sibling relationships can succeed. Relationships happen organically, so trying to force them to happen quickly can change the character of them.
What, then, can you do to create the best possible environment for new relationships to develop and flourish? Here are three actions you can take to help your new blended family:
Put the “fun” in dysfunctional.
Every family has tough seasons. Even the healthiest and most loving families have some level of dysfunction. Building relationships takes time, even under the best circumstances. Once you throw kids into the mix, it doesn’t make it any easier. So encourage you to find ways to put the fun into those dysfunctional moments.
Kids like to build relationships around fun activities, but so do adults. You probably didn’t meet your spouse one day and get married the next. It took time to build a strong relational foundation. You dated, which means you went to movies, took hikes, shared meal, took vacation, and enjoyed other activities around your common interests. You had fun together and got to know each other. we get to know each other. Ultimately, you fell in love. Children operate the same way.
Many blended families have two sets of kids, and then maybe that have children together. How do you help everyone blend into one family? You do it the same way you did with your spouse—through dating and sharing time together. Children don’t usually go from strangers to siblings overnight. They need time to get to know each other, and fun activities help to do that. Identify those things they will enjoy doing together and put them into your schedule. Not everything has to be a big event, but scheduled time together creates stability. You can help your kids begin to see the new flow of your family.
Create new family traditions.
A rich history of traditions brings families together. You may look back fondly on some of those traditions you experienced growing up. We don’t fully understand the power of these experiences as children. As we grow older, we see the importance of these special moments. Creating family traditions will give your children something they can know and understand. It will cement family memories in their minds. Your kids need that, especially in a blended family.
You will likely have unique challenges planning holiday traditions, especially in the case of joint custody, but it is not an insurmountable issue. Be intentional about your planning. Figure out what works for your family and make it a tradition. These are the things your children will talk about long after you’re gone. Give them those memories and traditions that they will be able to point to and say, “This is ours.”
Involve extended family.
Be sure all the grandparents and the rest of the extended relatives are involved in your new family. It’s heartbreaking to hear some grandparents “play favorites.” This happens when the grandparents never bond with new step-grandchildren and becomes especially difficult if the family is a mix of biological and step grandchildren. That’s difficult for young children to comprehend but also a hard adjustment for older kids. You can never underestimate the power of a grandparent’s love—even if it’s a step-grandparent.
If you’re still in the process of blending your family, or even if you’re several years into it but your extended family still hasn’t come around talk to the grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Tell them how important it is to you and to your children to have the full love and support of the whole family. Make sure they have all the children’s birthdays on their calendars and that they are showing equal love through their words and attention.
Blending a family is a lot like mixing a cake. You have various ingredients coming from different places. Individually, they may be very different, yet they all mix together to create something wonderful. You and your spouse are the eggs—because you’re equally yoked (pun intended.) Your children are the sugar, cocoa, flour, nuts, and chocolate chips. Your traditions shared time are the oil that holds everything together. Your shared joy is the icing on top. And Jesus is the baking pan that holds everything in one place—poured out to completion. All this makes for a pretty delicious life. An abundant life.