For many single parents, getting back into dating means they’ll eventually have a blended family. This can be a true blessing: you meet someone great and they have kids, or you have kids, or you both do and when you unite, it greatly can expand the love in your life. Here, Christian author Samantha Keller lets us in on how she and her second husband Tim discovered the 5 secrets of successful blended families.
Creating A New Step-Family
Two weeks after we returned from our honeymoon, my new husband stopped me outside the front door. He made sure my six and nine-year-old were safely inside and then leaned up against the wall breathing hard. “They never go away, do they?” he asked in sheer terror.
“No, sweetheart, the kids never go away.” I chuckled under my breath.
Blending a family is no easy feat, especially when your new husband is a 38-year-old man single man who’s never lived with a wife, much less two children. Within two years, we added a third into the mix and my poor husband aged about 10 years adapting to the life of a husband and father.
Looking back to our many struggles and triumphs over the years, here are a few things we learned along the way as we blended our step-family.
The 5 Secrets of Successful Blended Families
1. Commit To The New Family
An important thing to remember is that the parent who comes into the relationship with children already has an existing family structure in place, and you are crashing their party. If both parents have kids, it’s an even bigger disruption. Kids don’t see things the way adults do. Even if you are the greatest guy or gal in the world, kids are still loyal to their biological parents, and that creates drama. It’s a challenge to honor the past (and the ex) while making room for the future together.
Successful blended families anticipate an adjustment period and know that it will be stressful. Generally, there is a honeymoon phase when everyone is on their best behavior, and then when things settle down. This is when relationships and parenting roles will be tested. This is where your commitment level to the family as a whole will need to be high.
If you don’t adore and love the kids of the person you are marrying, then I don’t recommend pursuing the relationship. A successful blended family is a package deal; you can’t pick and choose. Marriage is hard enough without adding in children who are likely wounded from divorce or the death of a parent. Please don’t bring additional pain into their life if you aren’t in this relationship for the long haul. Ask yourself the tough questions. Would you raise these kids if something happened to the biological parent? Can you co-parent with your new spouse? Do you agree on basic values in child-rearing? Can you face the wrath of a hormonal teenager and not lose your spit?
2. Find Neutral Ground
Finances often play a big part in where your new family will reside, but if you can afford to move, I recommend you find a home that is new to all of you. Finding neutral ground will mean all of you can feel included and honored in the place you call home.
When my husband and I married, the kids and I moved into his condo. This was a big mistake. We thought it was temporary, so my husband didn’t make any real effort to make room for the kids and I. Between the three of us (the kids and myself), we were given one dresser and two tiny coat closets while my husband maintained a huge walk in closet, another closet and two dressers.
Two years later, with our third baby on the way and resentment growing as big as my belly, I let my husband know just how disappointed I was and launched a barrage of infant socks at his face because there wasn’t even a drawer for the new baby. It was way past time for him to compromise and share his space. We moved right after the baby was born, and that settled many of our space issues, but it’s still a sore point to this day.
My husband will be the first to tell you how important it is to make room for your new family. If you can move right away, it will benefit all the relationships; but if you can’t move, then make plenty of room to make everyone feel welcome. Successful blended families are those where everyone has space that belongs to them.
3. Get Educated
Few couples anticipate how challenging blending a family can be, and they get blindsided by the emotional weight of step-parenting. Fortunately, there are many resources to help you navigate this tricky road.
One of the first things my husband and I did was find a counselor who specialized in remarriage and blended families to encourage us. We also attended attended conferences on successful blended families and found a step-parenting support group. We read parenting books and we dove into the mess together. Because I had been a parent for much longer than my spouse, I also had to be patient and supportive of my husband’s efforts. He worked hard to catch up, and I worked hard to assist him.
4. Build A Relationship With The Ex
One of the secrets to creating successful blended families is remembering that it’s not just about the newlyweds and the kids. Often, the ex of one or both partners will be in the picture. While it’s natural to get irritated and vilify the ex-spouse, especially if they caused hurt to your new spouse or the children, but the best choice you can make is to do the exact opposite. The more the step-parent tries to honor and support the biological parent, the better the relationship between the kid and the step-parent plays out. As God instructs, sometimes loving our enemy is the way to win at life.
You don’t have to be best friends with the ex, but working hard to limit disparaging talk and encouraging special time with the kids’ mom or dad does wonders for your kids’ confidence and identity. Your children deeply desire to be in relationship with both their parents; don’t rob them of this because of your own grudges. Do everything you can to put aside your hurt and help facilitate this relationship.
5. Encourage The Step-Parent
Last, step-parenting is one of the hardest jobs there is, and I try to never take for granted the burden my husband willingly shouldered. I watch this loving man care and sacrifice for my kids like they are his own, even when they don’t see it or acknowledge it. Although they are getting older and now show more grace and loyalty towards him, there were long seasons in the early teen years that were grueling. Because of this, I try hard to let him know just how much I appreciate him.
My husband didn’t have to step in and rescue a single mom, but like Boaz, he helped redeem a broken family and made it new again. His servant heart has blessed our lives, and for this I am eternally grateful. Becoming a successful blended family will probably come with a unique set of challenges and rough patches, but it’s definitely worth it in the end.
You may also be interested in Positives of Divorce: Expand Your Family Rather Than Breaking It Apart