By: Michelle Anderson
Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore made it look easy in the movie Blended. Their families clicked within two hours and everybody was the best of friends by the time the credits rolled. If only blending a family was really that easy!
While the movie held a few truths to it, and the idea behind it was definitely interesting, it’s a lot more complicated than it looks. In fact, until you are actually doing it, you can’t really understand the complications. There are many unknown variables, unforeseen conflicts, and other factors you just can’t plan for.
So, how exactly does this blending thing work?
Before it can even begin to be successful, you must stand strong in your marriage. If your marriage is weak, your stepchildren will exploit it and use it against you, especially if they see you as the reason why their parents are no longer together. There’s a lot of defiance when someone else steps into another parent’s shoes, no matter the circumstances, but especially when that other parent is reluctant to share their shoes in the first place. Successful family blending begins with your marriage.
Now that you’ve affirmed your marriage is stronger than your stepchild’s defiance, here are six more keys to blending your family successfully:
1. Let the bio-parent be the “bad guy.”
It takes time for stepfamilies to adjust. The last thing you want to become during this adjustment period is the enforcer. Let the bio-parent handle behaviors and support their disciplinary decisions, even if you disagree with them, and even if your spouse works long hours or travels often. You must be on the same page. Never disagree in front of the kids because they will use that against you, too. Your job as the stepparent is to get to know them, find out their interests, and get involved in their lives through those avenues, instead of trying to enforce rules they may not be accustomed to.
2. Don’t compete with your counterpart.
Never speak ill of the absent parent, but, rather, try to uphold them. Don’t try to be the better parent, no matter what you think of that parent’s style (or lack of). Respect the biological connection the kids share with them, regardless of how your spouse and that parent get along. Rather than trying to make up for all the hurt and pain or whip an errant child into shape, simply be in the child’s life, present and supportive, rather than “fixing things” and competing with the bio-parent.
3. Discover your stepchild’s interests.
Start off like you would any friendship, learning the likes and dislikes, and finding that common ground. Take what you learn and find things you can do together. Remember you aren’t there to parent or take anyone’s place, but instead to build an appropriate relationship. Choose a role other than “parent”, like a beloved aunt or uncle, to foster the relationship.
4. Get out of the way.
Let your spouse take the kids out without you tagging along. This helps them feel the loss of the absent parent less while bonding more with the bio-parent, reducing feelings of displacement and replacing them with support, love, and a sense of belonging. It can be hard to stay out of the way, especially if your spouse seems to be spending more time doing things alone with the kids, but the benefits of stepping back are immeasurable.
5. Act lovingly even when you don’t feel that way.
This is very important because no matter how hard you try, you might not love them the way you thought you could. In fact, you may not even like them, and they may not like you, either! Look at it from their point of view: you’re the intruder. You displaced them. No matter how long their parents have been apart, you’re still the little green alien in the grand scheme of things. Learn to act lovingly, and, surprise! You may lose that alien status further down the road. After all, love is an action and if you model it, they may just follow in your footsteps and reciprocate, even if you remain the “enemy.”
6. Above all, find something right.
It’s easy to fall into the negativity trap, pointing out all the things that are wrong, but look for something good and point that out to your spouse. This removes your spouse from playing middle man and, if you practice this daily, can change your whole outlook (and theirs!) and how you look at the kids each day. There’s good in all of them, so find it and hold on to it.
Step-parenting and family blending is like having a baby. It’s brand new for everyone and needs to time to build strength. It requires a delicate balance of love and discipline, acceptance and support. These six steps are not easy to follow by any means. They require a dedication that some days will be severely tested, but will pay off in the long run. Take the time to build the relationship, nurture it, and stay positive. Most of all, don’t despair. Good things will happen. Take a cue from Adam Sandler and just be there. They’ll come around eventually.