Create a Better Blend in Your Blended Family

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Describing a stepfamily (spouses and both sets of children) as “blended” is common. But it’s also misleading, says Sarah Byram, MS Ed, LPC, of Samaritan Behavioral Health. “When you put things in a blender, the ingredients mix together so quickly and smoothly,” she says. “Stepfamilies are really more like a Crock-Pot. It’s a much slower process, and some ingredients take a lot longer than others.” 

To give yourself the best chance of forming a happily blended family, consider the following advice:

Don’t Rush It

The role of a stepmom or dad may be way more challenging than you initially realize. “It’s a mistake to go into a remarriage with a traditional marriage mindset,” says Byram. “It’s no longer just mom, dad and the kids. Now you’ve also got ex-spouses, new in-laws, your spouse’s friends, your spouse’s children’s friends, new teachers, new coaches. It’s a huge adjustment, and the reason 85 percent of second marriages end in divorce,” warns Byram, who calls upon her own experiences as a stepmom to counsel stepparents. She recommends counseling, preferably before marriage, “to open your eyes to what lies ahead and help you become adequately prepared.”  

Set Realistic Expectations

The children may still be reeling from the divorce or death of their parents. Don’t expect them to call you “mom” or “dad,” to say “I love you,” or to be happy with their new bedroom. Give them as much time as they need to ease into your new family and their new house.

Byram reminds stepparents, “when it comes to your spouse’s children, you are not their mom or dad. You are their father’s new wife or their mother’s new husband.” Bonding won’t happen overnight. It typically takes five to seven years for a blended family to find their routine and be comfortable with it.

“It’s a mistake to go into a remarriage with a traditional marriage mindset,” says Byram.

Establish Rules and New Traditions

Each family enters a remarriage with their previous sets of rules. When those rules don’t jive, turmoil may result. Instead of “you do it your way and I’ll do it my way,” establish new rules and work as a united front to enforce them. Rules might cover:

  • When is bedtime? Curfew?
  • Will you eat dinner together? When? How often?
  • Will we go to church?
  • How will we celebrate birthdays and holidays? How much will we spend?
  • Will the kids be responsible for chores? Receive allowance?

Your new family brings the opportunity for new traditions. Think of fun activities that you can do together that are unique to your new life. They can be simple, like a quick game of “Go Fish” before bedtime, or baking cookies on the weekends for school lunches. Let the kids have a say.

In your role as parent/stepparent, establish your own set of rules. Decide who will discipline who. Make it a rule to avoid discussion of your ex-spouses in front of the kids. If you need to blow off steam about something an ex-spouse said or did, do it behind closed doors.

Be an Effective Parent

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Children want to feel:

  • Safe and secure
  • Loved
  • Valued 
  • Heard and emotionally connected
  • Appreciated and encouraged

Ask yourself what you can do to help them, recognizing that what works for one child may not work for another. But don’t be a pushover. Children may not think they need limits, but without them they often feel ignored or unworthy of your time. 

Blending a family is challenging, but immensely rewarding. These resources will provide valuable insight:

  • “The Smart Step-Family” by Ron Deal
  • “Stepmonster” by Wednesday Martin, PhD
  • “The Smart Stepmom” by Laura Petheridge
Byram-Sarah

Sarah Byram, MS Ed, LPCC

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