A blended family is the result of two people coming together who already have children from previous relationships. Although divorce is the end of a marriage, it is not the end of relationships. According to McCrindle research, of the 118,962 marriages a year in Australia, 28% of those are remarriages. Family can already be hard. Having a blended family can be even harder – at least to begin with!
The analogy that Jim Sollisch, whose family ‘blended’ many years ago is this one: “
“Almost 20 years ago, when our five kids were all in elementary school, Rique and I blended our families. That’s the word the parenting industry uses. “Blend.” Talk about euphemism. There is no stress in the word “blend.” It’s one utterly pleasant syllable. Blend is how you make smoothies. Another delightful word. You blend the bananas till they are indistinguishable from the strawberries. Put children in a family ‘blender’ and something quite different happens. The result will not be smooth. Think chunky. Salsa is a much better analogy. Chunks that sometimes complement, like tomato and pepper, and often contrast, like mango and jalapeño. It’s not smooth, and it’s certainly not boring.”
For those of us old enough to remember The Brady Bunch, although most episodes ended ‘perfectly’, this blended family were not without their ups and downs. Alice, their housekeeper, often seemed to be the glue holding that family together. She would help them to see that they had each other – even though they were all imperfectly figuring out how to do life and family together. Actually – that doesn’t sound a whole lot different from families that are not blended. But, there are some unique challenges that blended families have. It can be a hard road sometimes. It can take a while for stepchildren to accept the new parent, it can hard for a stepmum or dad to discipline a stepchild who only listens to the biological parent (at the moment) and creating a home for two ‘established’ families into one? It’s a good thing that it’s only one day at a time.
Sollisch explains how he thinks that he and his wife pulled off the blended family thing:
“Well, for one thing, we had no idea how bad the odds against us were. Fortunately the Internet was younger than our children, so we were able to keep some semblance of ignorance, which we expressed as optimism. We didn’t know that second marriages have only a one in three chance of survival. Or that when you add kids, the chances go down. And yet we survived even this: five teenagers under the same roof at one time.”
So – stop reading this article? Well, you could, but then you wouldn’t know how it ends.
Don’t buy into all of the dreary statistics about relationships not working. None of us would ever try and commit to anyone, let alone their kids as well! Carve your own trail, but learn from those who have gone before. You are not like a nuclear family so stop comparing your blended family to one. There is greater complexity which can be beautiful and catastrophic all in the same breath. You are probably going to be dealing with four different sides of the family now. When Christmas comes around, maybe just hide, or maybe you could have four different Christmas celebrations! You will earn oodles of points from the kids, stepchildren included.
Sara Frost and her husband Russell have a blended family of 6 kids under 14. She says, “My husband and I started out unsure of starting all over again. When you have kids, it’s definitely a gamble in many ways. Since then, we’ve learned tricks for disciplining as a team and a bond has definitely grown.” If blended families can learn together then they will be able to grow together. Shared experiences and time are the only way for this to happen.
Blending a family is a process. David L. Brashear, BCSW, and family therapist, says it takes approximately five years to blend a step-family. Like all of family life, there are ups and downs. A blended family is a place where children have the opportunity to develop good family skills and plenty of resiliance.
The two same pieces of advice that keep coming up in blended family stories is stick with it and work at your marriage. After eight years of marriage, Donna Mott admits that raising her kids with her husband Daniel has been “filled with change, disappointments, victories, worry and joy.”
Her advice for a stepfamily struggling to feel like a family is this:
“The best advice I can give is only what has seemed to work for us with a lot of time and patience. First, throw your preconceived ideas out the window. It will never be what you expect. Accept that there will be tears, yelling, confusion and adjustment. Second, make your marriage a priority. That doesn’t mean your children are less important; do it because your children deserve more and don’t need to go through another divorce. The kids will learn to appreciate the stability of a healthy family home. Finally, learn to be selfless not selfish. Focus on making memories instead of what you can’t control.”
Maybe this is not the advice you were hoping for in your own blended family challenge. Quick fixes are rarely sustainable – we’re focusing on the long view here. The individuals that help to form each blended family learn things that benefit everyone such as:
- flexibility and adaptability
- emotional endurance
- learning to do more with less
We don’t wish our children to be in pain or to be continually uncomfortable about new relationships and arrangements, but if we can help them to navigate those times with as much understanding as possible then they (and you and I) may just make it through. While there may continue to be some very crazy days (both emotionally and physically) blended families that stick it out are forged into stronger people and a family unit who understand that hard work relationally has great rewards.
If you’d like to speak to one of our experienced family lawyers then please contact us today. We offer a free, 10-minute phone consultation.