During childhood we read stories about a couple falling in love, getting married, and raising a family. It always ended with, “And they lived happily ever after.”
But what if they didn’t? What if they divorced, then remarried?
Can they get their happily ever after in their new, blended family life?
Stepfamily life may feel more like a disjointed version of that original storyline. Some characters are shifted out of “main character” roles, new ones are added, and everyone has the work of trying to figure out what those next chapters will look like.
Sometimes the characters struggle to fit together. There are so many relationship challenges! Additionally, not everyone is equally engaged in wanting things to work out (some kids are not open to having a stepparent or resent the new family situation and want their old one back).
So, what can stepcouples do to help smooth things over and build a sense of unity in their new storyline?
Building your blended family requires a lot of intentional work, and it helps to focus on 3 things: patience, understanding, and a shared goal.
Experts say it takes about 5-7 years for most blended families to actually feel and function like a unified family.
If you’re one of the lucky ones, things fell into place without much drama. If so, then that’s wonderful and I celebrate that with you! (If this is you, I’d love to chat with you about what you did to make things work out!)
For most stepfamilies, there is a honeymoon phase and then reality sets in.
There is a definite shift from everyone being on their best behavior to at least a few family members beginning to express their irritation or frustration with one another or the entire situation.
Stepfamily author Ron Deal talks about blended family life being similar to a slow cooker recipe. It takes time for all of the individual ingredients to soften and share their flavors with each other, but eventually, with a lot of patience (“slow cooking”), the end result is worth the wait. I think that’s a brilliant way to look at this.
Each person is an important part of the “recipe” but it takes time for everyone to find their place. Individual family members need to be willing to soften to share themselves with others and be open to receiving from others as well. It all takes a lot of time and patience.
Being in a blended family requires empathy. By taking the time to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and seeing their perspective, you open the door for understanding and working towards building a compassionate relationship.
One couple I coached was very frustrated with the kids on transition days. Each time one of the kids returned to their home it felt chaotic because the child was a bit “out of sorts.” I asked the parents to put themselves in their children’s shoes.
Envision waking up every 3 days knowing you had to pack all your things into a suitcase to transfer to another home. You never feel truly settled. You sometimes forget things and then you get yelled at. Each time you arrive at the other home, you feel like a visitor playing catch up or like you have to re-establish your spot in the family. Every. Three. Days.
Another example I often share is that of a birth mom who was frustrated with her new spouse for not being more involved with her son. I had to remind her that while she had time to learn how to nurture and care for her son, that type of relationship didn’t suddenly exist for her son and his new stepdad just because they were all living together. Her son and spouse needed time to learn how to live in the same space and begin building a deeper relationship.
Having insight into what your partner or stepchild is feeling leads to more patience and understanding within the relationship. Instead of jumping into frustration or judgment mode, try taking a step back and asking, “What is that other person feeling right now?”
Attempting to be more understanding and giving grace some grace will go a long way to helping build some bridges.
3. A Shared Goal
The best way to build teamwork and cooperation is to have everyone working towards the same goal. It happens on sports teams, in business, and for families as well.
As you may be experiencing, things don’t always work out that way! That sense of family isn’t happening within your blended family. Something to remember is the fact that sharing a home and raising your kids together is the idea of the adults, but it might not have been something the kids would have chosen.
They didn’t pick your spouse, you did.
If you’re lucky, everyone buys into the “family life” idea. The kids all get along with each other and with their new stepparent.
Often times, it takes a lot of work to build a sense of unity and harmony in your home. While everyone said they were “fine” with the idea, the reality of blended family life might not be what was envisioned.
Think about ways to build a common goal, just one thing everyone can get excited about or at least buy into for the sake of the family. When everyone works together, it builds shared experiences on which to build better relationships.
Some ideas include:
* Family bike rides or hikes
* Meal planning and prep
* Going to each other’s activities to cheer and offer support
Common experiences build stronger bonds.
So, while being a blended family can be challenging, having patience understanding and a shared goal will strengthen your family relationships.
If you or a family you know needs support and strategies for successful stepfamily life, I offer a complimentary discovery call. This call will give you time to share your concerns/problem areas and learn what steps can be taken to bring more harmony to your home. Click here to book your free call today.