While there are volumes written about the challenges of blended families, step-parenting, and troublesome ex-spouses, this post focuses on a few practical things you can do to help your blended family . . . well, blend.
What exactly does it mean to blend? Does it mean that everyone gets along? That there are never any problems? That you act like your previous marriage never existed? Or that you pretend that you're one happy family? No, not in the least.
Rather, in this case, blending means that everyone is working to be inclusive, understanding of feelings, and respectful of thoughts and opinions. You can't force love, but you can try to forge healthy—or at least functional—relationships.
In working toward the goal of having a blended family, here are 5 things you can do.
1. Build your family on a foundation of faith
A blended Christian family that feels united has, at the center of it all, a couple that's committed to prayer. Building your family's foundation on prayer and the principles found in God's Word holds the greatest potential for building healthy relationships.
As you pray, ask for humility and openness. One of the fatal snares in blended families is a proud attitude that is inflexible and set in its way. This unwillingness to give and compromise can destroy the opportunity to blend. Also, ask God to dissipate residual resentment. Above all, remember to confess your sins and ask Him for wisdom and guidance in your marriage and your parenting.
Prayer is powerful and effective, so pray specifically and expectantly.
2. Ask WWJD?
Remember this acronym—"What Would Jesus Do?" It's been around a long time. Perhaps because it's a helpful thing to remember when you're at a loss for knowing what to do or how to handle a situation. If you or others in your blended family pause to ask this question, in most cases, it will change or significantly influence how you deal with circumstances.
For example, if you happen upon a verbal squabble between the kids, think WWJD. By thinking this way, you might look for ways to show love to all parties involved, listen to all sides of the story, mediate with an open mind, and take advantage of a teachable moment if one presents itself.
It may take a while to think this way in all situations, but once it becomes a habit, you'll find it guiding all of your interactions. Help others in your family to think this way, too. Do everything you can to weave this mentality into the fabric of your family.
A perspective shift can make all the difference in the world.
3. Discourage drama
The dynamics in a newly formed family are complex and delicate. It takes work to get through the challenges that come with gaining a step parent, accepting step siblings, and adapting to step children. The last thing that should be added to the volatile mix is drama. If drama rears its head, it needs to be extinguished immediately. Casting blame and playing victim are hallmarks of drama that lead to unhealthy relationships. Discourage such attitudes and mindsets—they're hurtful, detrimental, and dividing.
To counter this, create an atmosphere in your home where conversations—NOT drama—are always welcome. Don’t tolerate insults, finger-pointing, sarcasm, negativity, gossip, or passive-aggressive behavior. Explore ways you can promote a climate of joy, support, and positivity.
4. Be consistent in your enforcement of rules
Philosophies of how to discipline, when to discipline, partiality in discipline, and the mixture of two different parenting styles often give rise to conflicts that can be quite intense. So, do whatever it takes to get on the same page with your spouse.
Find solutions that work for both of you and that uphold your family's values (i.e. no drama, making your home a safe place, etc.) and stick to them. It may be challenging at times, but in the long run, everyone will benefit.
5. Don't let different last names divide your family
Before being remarried, your children likely had established identities. They identified as a family—with you, their other biological parent, and siblings. Everyone shared the same last name. However, once you remarried and your last name changed (presuming it has), the chances are good that your children felt like they lost a part of their identity.
When a child’s name is different than their mother’s, which is true in my case, it can be a glaring reminder to children that their parents are divorced.
In your home, don't let last names divide your family. Everyone under your roof should know that they are loved unconditionally and equally for who they are—love is not contingent upon where they call home or their biological last name.
If it would be helpful, you could find ways to use the two last names together: sign holiday cards with both names, call yourselves by both names (i.e. Smith Shoemakers), get return address labels with both names, etc. Ultimately, how this is handled is up to you and your spouse—yet another reason why it's vital to be on the same page together!
As you work to blend your family, remember to look to God for wisdom and to create a home where understanding and respect are valued and expected. Blending won't happen overnight, but taking intentional steps like these will make a big difference.
Have you thought about Sandy Cove Family Camp as an option for your family's summer vacation? Dive into the Word of God, hear from engaging Biblical teachers, and have a blast together? This is the stuff memories are made of—and every blended family could use more of those!