In honor of National Stepfamily Day, read one mother’s tips for success with a blended family.
When I married my husband many years ago, I was full of optimism about our future together. Sure, he was divorced with two pre-tween girls, but I was absolutely certain that our love could and would get us through anything. I had two stepparents myself, so I figured I knew what I was doing. This blended family thing was going to be a piece of cake.
Today, I look back at myself then and think, You poor, poor girl. You had absolutely no idea what you were getting into. Blending a family is hard. Really, REALLY hard. My stepdaughters came to live with us seven days a week soon after I married, we added two more children to the mix, and we endured nine straight years of puberty. Let me repeat that, in case you weren’t paying attention.
NINE STRAIGHT YEARS OF PUBERTY.
Personally, I think there should be a medal for that.
It wasn’t easy, but my husband and I made it through, with more than a few emotional scrapes and scars to show for it. Today, my stepdaughters are grown and we are in what I call our honeymoon period — the blessed few years between our oldest kids’ puberty phases and the youngest ones’ still in the future. I wish I had known a decade ago what I know now about blended family life, and while I can’t go back in time, I can tell you what I’ve learned. Here are my top five tips for blended families.
1. Get help. We waited eight years to visit a family counselor. In retrospect, that was a huge mistake. I left that very first session feeling so much better about myself as a wife and stepmom. Our counselor put our problems in perspective and assured us that they were very common among blended families. I recommend that blended family couples find a good counselor or therapist as soon as they decide to get married. Even checking in for a visit once or twice a year will help you stay on track in your marriage and as a family.
2. Abandon your Perfect Blended Family visions. When I married, I had a very clear vision of How It Was Gonna Be in my new blended family. Unfortunately, that vision was not shared by my stepdaughters, and I spent several fruitless years persisting in my vision and then feeling resentful when everything didn’t work out the way I had planned. I wish now that I had simply decided to roll with it. Blended families are messy. The kids are dealing with some MAJOR issues — either divorce or the death of a parent — and things will almost certainly not go the way anyone has planned. Take each day as it comes and do the very best you can. That’s enough. Truly, it is.
3. The stepparent may need to take a step back, and that’s totally OK. Every new stepparent I know, myself included, has a rosy vision when he or she marries of being a “bonus” mom or dad — but the truth is, that’s often not at all what the stepkids need or want. In many families, the blended family dynamic is better overall when the step takes a backseat to the biological parents’ involvement and discipline. As a stepparent, you need to carefully feel your way in this department. Try not to step on the toes of the ex, and take on his or her role. Don’t put yourself in a position to be devastated if your stepkids aren’t that interested in having a close emotional relationship with you. And don’t compare your family with other blended families. Every single one is different.
4. A happy marriage makes for happy kids. Many blended family couples make the mistake of focusing all their energy and attention on the kids, because they’ve been through so much. I know we did during the first few years of our marriage. The truth is, though, that your kids will benefit from seeing you and your spouse in a strong, loving relationship. They need to see what that looks like. Put your marriage first and your entire family will benefit. Trust me on this one.
5. Keep your problems to yourself. Unfortunately, stepparents don’t get to vent in the same way that biological parents do, although plenty of them try! Think about it for a moment, though. It never comes off right when a stepparent complains about his or her stepkids, because a) they had a choice about whether to become a stepparent to those kids, and b) those kids aren’t THEIR kids. Stepparents will do far better to save their issues for that counselor/therapist I mentioned earlier. To the rest of the world, put a smile on your face and keep your mouth shut.
Those are my tips, learned on the blended-family battlefield. Do you have any you’d like to share? Leave them in the comments!
This post was written by Lindsay Ferrier, who has has authored the award-winning parenting blog “Suburban Turmoil” since 2005. An avowed bookworm, she’s also blogged about how to turn your child into an avid reader.