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When Blended Families aren’t Blending

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            If you are reading this, chances are you are involved in a blended family. Maybe you are a new step parent or you have married someone who is new to being a step parent. Chances are you struggle on a regular basis and maybe don’t feel this blended family thing was such a good idea. After all, nobody grows up with the dream of second marriages and blended homes. More than likely you feel alone and like everyone else in the world has a better home structure and struggles less than you do. I am here to tell you that couldn’t be further from the truth. 40% of marriages in the United States are blended families, according the US Census Bureau. I would bet money on blended families becoming the majority in the next decade.

Brace yourself for some bad news. The divorce rate of blended families is 70%, compared to that of the national average for first time marriages at 41% . Blended families are just hard. First -time marriages are hard enough with all that comes with them. Add in ex -spouses and kids; things can get a little hairy. The good news is there are ways to make things better when times get rough. I don’t have a psychology degree or anything, but being from a blended family and now having my own, I can say I have legitimate experience in this area. Blended families can be as rewarding as they are challenging. But we need to talk about the challenges and quit pretending they don’t exist. So I will start by sharing some things I have learned the hard way, so maybe you don’t have to.

  1. Great expectations lead to great disappointment.

I find that the more I expect everyone to get along all of the time, the more they don’t. If you have lived in both worlds, you know blended family fights are somehow worse, especially when they involve children. Maybe its because you feel your spouses love for your children is conditional? You love your kiddos unconditionally because they are yours biologically. But do they? This is a huge challenge for blended families. You want your spouse to like your kids all of the time. It’s not going to happen. Expect quarrels and strong emotions. Expect growing pains as your family dynamic evolves and changes.

2. Make time for your spouse. No kids. 

All couples need this time. Blended families need this, and more. Time away from drama and stresses that come with raising kids and step kids. Time to reconnect and remember why you are together in the first place.

3. Stay out of affairs with the ex-spouse 

Getting involved in arguments or quarrels with the ex-spouse is never a good idea. You may feel you need to step in and protect your spouse from their ex. Chances are you will just stress your spouse out more. Furthermore, harping on what you think about the ex only raises tensions and negative energies. If the children get wind of this, it can lead to them resenting you for taking part in squabbles with their other, biological parent. Be there for support and advice and leave it there.

4. Your kids WILL, at some point, get the best of your spouse 

Your kids get on your nerves at times, test your limits, and eventually bring you to a breaking point. Your spouse is going to feel this way about your kids at some point and its OK. This one is hard. Whose side do you take?  As long as your children are not being abused, the answer to this is to take no side. Be the moderator. This leads me to my next point.

5. Allow your spouse to have some level of authority with your children

Should step parents punish or discipline their step children? This is a debate I’m not getting into here. Whatever you decide, your children need to have general respect for your spouse. Don’t defend them if they don’t listen to rules when you are not around and your spouse steps in. This only teaches your kids that when mom or dad comes home, they will be defended and they don’t have to listen to your spouse. I made this mistake. For years. It doesn’t make things better.

Remember that 30% of marriages with blended families do survive. It takes a lot of work and a lot of love. Growing pains cause discomfort, but are worth it in the end. Next time you are feeling alone, talk to your fellow blended family friends. Ask for their honesty in the struggle. I promise you will find that they too have blended family issues.

If you are really struggling, give it time. The family will adjust and move forward. Kids are wonderful, resilient creatures. They find a way to grow and accept change much better than us adults do. But they need time. I sincerely hope this helps someone and opens a dialogue among individuals in blended households.

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