Yours, Mine, and Ours: Tips for a Blended Family
As I processed writing a blog about blended families, I was reminded of the tough times and those which have kept my family close today. Our journey began many years ago, as my three young children moved from another state and joined their father and me. Their ages were under the age of 6, and I had a 3-year-old. Yep, you did the math, four small children, 6 and under! Whew!
A few years later, my husband and I had one together, totaling three boys and two girls! Now, I will not sugar coat it. Sometimes it was — excuse me — hard as hell! However, almost 32 years later, we’ve weathered the storm successfully, loving and supporting one another through the failures and successes that come with blended families and stepparenting.
I know. I know. There will be many reading this blog who may have difficult stories about your blended family. Some individuals may have felt unloved, alone, not heard, and mistreated — as the child or the stepparent. You may have had stepmothers like Snow White or Cinderella. Or stepfathers who weren’t all that great either! For which, I am truly sorry. It is quite unfortunate — many blended families have a lower rate of long-term success. To be honest, I truly believe it takes dedication, trust, and persistence to ensure any family is successful.
So, what are some easy tips for a blended family to connect? Below are my top five pieces of relationship advice for divorce recovery and conflict resolution within a blended family.
1. Couple’s Relationship
As the family transitions and new routines begin to develop, it is important not to forget your romantic relationship. A new blended family has its demands whether the children visit every other weekend, split one week with each parent, share six months with each parent, or live full-time with one parent. Whatever the arrangement, make sure to allow bonding within your relationship.
Too often, divorced parents have discussions about the kids, problems with the former spouses, previous relationships, and so forth. It’s just real life! Not taking the time for your relationship and being weighed down by stepfamily challenges might cause resentment and isolation and may possibly impact the couple’s relationship. Thus, it is important to take time for your relationship.
Spending time together has many benefits:
- It strengthens the bond between the couple. Allowing each to remember “why” you fell in love and chose one another.
- It is important to date weekly. Find a sitter or date when the children are with the other parent. Wake up before the kiddos and spend quality time over a cup of coffee, or after they go to bed, enjoy a movie. Never let a week escape your time together.
- When remarried couples dedicate time together, it brings stability to the family.
- Spending time as a couple is a teachable moment for the kiddos, giving them an example of a loving, successful relationship and positive adult connection.
2. Open Communication
Our family loved game night. We ate together at the kitchen table and created a safe space for our kiddos. The dinner table was a time for the kids to speak openly about concerns in school, their friends, or our family, which is essential for healthy family relationships. These moments were sacred because they allowed our children to be heard and my husband and I to connect with them, especially as they transitioned into teens and young adults. No topic was off the table.
Funny story, as the older four were entering into middle and high school, they began hearing other students talk about sex. I mean graphic content! My husband was shocked! He was speechless, to say the least! They were curious, and I didn’t want them to learn from their peers. I remember freaking out internally but answered their questions or delayed them until age-appropriate.
Here are a few tips for the best response when they ask tough questions:
- “Tell me what you do know?”
- “Hmm, what have you heard?”
- “So, what are your thoughts about it?”
- “Ok, that is a tough question. Let’s rejoin it later when you’re a little older.”
Honestly, later that evening, my husband approached me, still a bit shaken. “We didn’t talk about those things with my parents. I would not have known what to say!” It still makes me laugh! Just remember, the kiddos have had to adjust to the change in their family and now are coping with a stepparent and/or new stepsiblings. Keep communication open for the children to have a sense of belonging, a place where their voices are heard, and a moment to build closeness and trust.
3. Family Bonding Through Cooking Together
Believe it or not, our children loved to cook. As a stay-at-home mom, I developed a monthly Meal Calendar. The calendar consisted of breakfast, lunch, and dinner and included mid-day and evening snacks during the summer. Yes, it was challenging at the beginning but was a lifesaver for those busy evenings filled with church activities, school programs, sports, and more.
I’m always elated when my adult children speak about the Meal Calendar. Most specifically, it was important to each of them because each child would choose one meal of their choice. Yes, there were ALWAYS tacos, hot dogs, pizza, nachos, and other childhood favorites on the calendar each month. On the evening of one child’s meal choice, they became the “chef” for the evening. The chef would assign duties to the others, such as setting the table, preparing drinks, and chopping vegetables, for preparing the meal. We would prepare the food together, and the other children would complete their assigned duties. They absolutely loved it!
As they grew into teenagers, they cooked the entire meal for our family. This transition was awesome as I pursued my undergrad degree. I would study long hours at the library and come home to nachos, hot dogs, and tacos. Today, what’s amazing? As adults, all five of our children love to cook! A few have started the tradition and create meal calendars for their families to cook with their children! As stated before, it has become a cherished memory for our children and now grandchildren!
4. Split Visitation of Child(ren)
Our children lived with us full time. I do believe these tips helped our family and could be valuable tools for those experiencing split visitations.
Private space for your children is important. Now, I get it. Sometimes space is limited with a large family, especially with the five living permanently in our home! However, when a child has split visitation, it may be difficult to leave their personal possessions for visiting the other parent. They may feel like a stranger in your home. What do I mean by that? There are families who may have limited space due to family size, housing size, or other circumstances. When the child visits, such as on the weekends, they enter your home and notice their half or stepsiblings have private rooms, their own beds, toys, electronics, and clothes. Unfortunately, they may feel left out, not a part of the family, or a visitor.
Dedicate personal space for:
- Their toiletries, such as toothbrushes and hair products
- A dresser or closet for clothing
- Favorite foods or snacks
- Personal games or toys
5. Spend Time With Children
Every child desires to feel special with their parents, brothers, and sisters. They observe relationships and never want to feel alone or unimportant. Therefore, remember to be mindful of all children in the home and careful showing special attention or favoritism. Doing so will ensure each child has strong mental health and solid self-esteem while limiting relationship issues, such as sibling rivalry.
I can remember when our children were getting older, we noticed how they would over talk or attempt to outperform one another. One child would discuss a game they loved while the other interrupts with an impromptu song! Mercy! Yes, I am laughing again! Kids will be kids. To resolve attention-seeking and help with autonomy, we started dating — our kiddos.
We had three systems:
- All boys or girls time together: This was so much fun for our kiddos! Either my husband would take the boys out, and I would hang with the girls at home or vice versa. Switching off who got which group allowed the kids to bond with both their biological parent and stepparent at separate times. The kids would choose a place to spend time with us, such as playing ball at the park, riding bikes, going to the movies, crafting, playing games at home, watching a movie at home, or cooking together. How did they choose? We had a small jar with affordable outing ideas. Rotating, each child picked from the jar for date time.
- Mom and the boys: As the boys began to mature, we believed it was important to teach them how to respect and care for young ladies and/or their future wives. We would have an activity together, such as dinner, for which the boys were responsible for opening my car door, the door at the establishment, ordering our food, and more. They loved it! In fact, today my daughters-in-law have told me many times over, they are attracted to our sons for being emotionally intelligent and chivalrous, stating they feel honored and protected by them. Yes!!!
- Dad and the girls: With the same guidance, my husband opened doors and ordered food. He would buy flowers for our daughters because he wanted to start an expectation for them before they began dating and awaiting future marriage. Side note: When our youngest daughter married, her dad didn’t buy her Valentine’s flowers. She called our home very sad, asking why her dad didn’t buy her flowers? I was shocked, so I told her dad. He explained she was married and he thought her husband would be buying her flowers. Her response? Her husband’s flowers didn’t take the place of her dad’s flowers. Needless to say, hubby rushed to buy her flowers! He later told me our daughter was smiling and hugging her dad with joy! She let him know she has always felt special because he buys her flowers. Yep, you guessed it, he has never missed another Valentine’s Day for her, and she’s 35! I absolutely love it! He adopted her when she was 7, and she believes she is special because he chose her!
My hope for every family, blended or not, is to remember every person is special. Each person desires to experience love and to feel wanted. The most important tip is to make time with your spouse and your children. Stepparenting and kiddos joining a new stepfamily can be tough. Ask friends or family members what has helped them create a safe place for their families. What have they implemented to develop a successful family?
Reach out to Stanford Couples Counseling
Lastly, seek help from a skilled professional who can help you develop tools to assist you, your partner, biological children, and stepchildren create your new family. Family counseling is a great way to help family members work through the unique challenges that come with a blended family situation together and find peace in sharing their thoughts and feelings with each other.
Family counseling can be especially beneficial for blended families because there are so many changes that come with combining two families. Talking through these changes and allowing each family member to feel heard and understood can make the transition into one family go more smoothly. Blended family counseling can bring families together by helping both parents and children adapt to stepfamily life.
Make sure you sign up for blended family counseling with an experienced and dependable team of therapists who will meet your family where you are and help you move toward your goals. At Stanford Couples Counseling, our highly qualified therapists work as a collaborative team to provide comprehensive relationship coaching for blended families.
We offer marriage counseling for blended families as well as counseling for children and teen counseling to ensure all members of a blended family have the opportunity to express themselves and receive the right tools for dealing with the sudden changes that becoming a blended family brings. Through regular counseling sessions, each member of your blended family will learn practical solutions for adjusting to a new family dynamic.
To take the next step in creating a successful blended family, schedule a family counseling appointment with Stanford Couples Counseling today. You got this!