Our Lessons Learned
Sometimes, I wish I could turn back the clock. Take all the things we have learned in the past 12 years and start this all over.
I’m not one to carry around a lot of regret, but it’s hard not to wonder.
Woof. This is a heavy and hard one.
We have learned so much in the years we worked to blend this family. If our knowledge and experience can help you in your journey, that is what we are for.
Zack and I met online in 2006. We fell head over heels. Fast. Both with small children (his kids were 4 and 2 years old and mine were 3 and 1), we pretty quickly started making plans for how we could live in the same state and ultimately merge our families. We were enamored with each other and would have done anything to be together.
The initial months of our relationship were a beautiful honeymoon phase. We still lived in separate homes and had a good amount of time alone (while the kids were with their other parents). It was blissful!
Then, we merged into one home.
Learning to live with one human isn’t easy. How will their habits impact you and your routine? Will you like them as much when you’re sharing a bathroom, a closet, an everything?
When blending a family, though, you aren’t just learning to live with one person…you are also learning to live with their children. And them with you!
The children are innocent bystanders in an immensely difficult life pivot. This transition must be handled with great care to allow the children the best chance of a successful and peaceful merger.
It’s a monumental adjustment and one that if I could go back, I would do slower and with more intent.
This shit is heavy, y’all. Here’s what we learned:
Manage Your Expectations
Our biggest piece of advice is slow down. Blending families takes years, not weeks or days, and you should be prepared for that.
Don’t slow down or hold back your love, dreams, or ambitions. But slow down your expectations. You are lucky; you found the love of your life. Your second chance.
Your kids did not.
Their world likely broke.
So before you go setting up house rules and start barking at your lover’s children who behave differently than your own (or differently than you expected), remember, their world got rocked. And you are the adult.
This first year of merging a family is critical.
You are participating in creating an environment to help your lover raise children. Think about the enormity of this task. How can you support your lover, and vice versa?
Keep your expectations low and allow yourself the peace of mind that this can-and should-be a slow transition for everyone.
Why is this concept so hard for humans to master? Good, healthy communication is so hard.
This is the true test of the relationship. Can you force your way through incredibly sensitive and hard conversations to truly seek understanding? Can you put your ego away?
Your family needs this of you. They deserve a healthy, communicative home. When parents (step or not) are communicating in a healthy way, that energy lives in your home. And the opposite is true, the negative/scary energy will reside as well.
Please, put that ego away. Say the hard things. Communicate how you feel. Seek to understand. It’s for you, but it’s also for the kids. And it is a critical component to setting up a happy and healthy blended family.
Gracious, I think we worry too much about this. The truth is simple: the blending takes years.
And the bond comes in moments. Little moments of a smile, a thank you, a chore completed without asking. Little things that build into big, warm, wonderful feelings. It takes time and requires the investment of all parties.
It’s hard as a mom to worry about the stepfather/stepdaughter bond.
I know as a dad, it was hard for Zack to watch and understand the bond that was slowly building between myself and his babies.
It’s hard as a stepparent, to worry you aren’t doing enough to forge a bond with your stepchildren.
We are all humans. We will bond. Forcing it will never work and will only cause strife between you and your spouse. If I could go back in time, I would relax and allow the bonds to form more naturally.
Your Tool Kit
We chose therapy as a tool to increase our odds of success because we have all read the depressing statistics on second marriages with kids. The failure rate is dismal. We wanted to prevent that demise.
Couples/Family/Individual. DSLR/Talk/Meds, we have tried it all.
Even with a therapist, it’s important to evaluate the advice together. One therapist gave us a framework that we tried, but we eventually realized it had pulled our family further apart. That, of course, was the antithesis of our goal.
His framework was to segment the family. Zack would discipline his biological children, and I would discipline mine. Then, we would need to figure out how to have a joint approach for Mia.
This turned into us “tattling” to our partner about their children. It felt accusatory and really set us on a bad path for many years.
It set our individual bonds back with our stepchildren.
It introduced added friction in the marriage.
It broke my heart.
We had to slowly find a way to pivot and begin parenting and living as a FAMILY. Not two separate families-but one.
Find Your Cheerleaders
You will need your friends and family more than ever. A trusted marriage-positive friend in each spouse’s corner is CRUCIAL.
I had a great friend whom I was able to trust and word vomit to. Every. Single. Time. She pointed me back towards my love for my family. Love of my spouse. Love of the child I was frustrated with.
I wonder if our marriage would have survived without her presence. She gave me openness, honesty, and a safe place to say it all, unfiltered.
I will be forever grateful for that human.
Congratulations on your second chance at love! Your blended family can be your biggest source of joy. Be deliberate about your choices and most definitely find your cheerleaders. You can do this!
Please engage with us on this pivotal topic in the comments below:
- Are you a newly blended family or expecting to be in one soon?
- What has been your biggest challenge?
- If you are experienced, what’s your best advice for a blended family? Did we miss anything important?