Essential Mommy Guide: The Blended Family
Being a step-parent is not an easy task, and in order to have a working bond and good relationship with your step-child(ren), it requires a never ending commitment to open communication with your spouse, flexibility with expectations, understanding of what a blended family is, and acceptance that there will be differences between full time and part time children.
I met my daughter when she was five years old. She was adorable, sweet, imaginative, active, and completely won me over. My husband and I had been dating long distance about nine months. He had told me that he had a daughter from a previous marriage, but explained that until we were both certain that the relationship would move forward, he did not want me to meet his daughter. I found this to be an incredibly mature decision that required a great deal of logic, empathy, compassion and love for his daughter. His daughter and I connected quickly and played for hours, slowly bonding and getting to know one another.
In my opinion, it is very important when you are entering into a romantic relationship and the person you are dating is a parent, that you realize you are not just dating him or her, you are also dating his or her child. I don’t mean you are dating the child in a romantic way, but rather, you are making sure that not only could you be this person’s spouse, but you could also be your spouse’s child’s parent. It is important to note for yourself if you have a bond with the child and if you are willing to make the commitment to develop that bond with the child.
One thing that my husband and I do well, most of the time (no one is perfect), is communicate. When it comes to blending a family, communication is key, especially when the family begins to expand with new children. Communicating concerns, issues and feelings with your partner regarding balancing attention, time and experiences with each child is at the core of having a functional blended family. The reason we are able to communicate freely is because we dedicate at least one night a month to just being with each other. We ensure that for at least one night he and I do something together on our own. This at least once a month date has helped us to keep a healthy, dynamic and loving relationship. It allows us to set aside time to focus on our relationship and build it even stronger.
James H. Bray, PhD, of the Baylor College of Medicine stated, “These parents formed a solid, committed partnership so they could not only nurture their marriage, but effectively raise their children. They didn’t get stuck in unrealistic expectations of what family should be like.” (http://www.apa.org/monitor/dec05/stepfamily.aspx) Every family is different, and no one can write a book on parenting that will be effective for every situation. Developing a blended family really requires rolling with it and learning to accept that when a child is not spending the majority of their time with you, he or she will not be able to meet the expectations you may have for children that do live with you full time. Nothing is perfect in life, but if you work at the things you are not so good at, you get better at them.
For me, the hardest part about being part of a blended family was hearing my daughter refer to her step-dad as daddy. This was hard for me to swallow because my husband is an amazing father. I came to his defense and actually allowed myself to get upset by it. As I matured further and came to understand the full dynamics of a blended family, I realized that even though my husband was an amazing father, she knew two fathers because she could not be with us all the time and, in fact, she spent the majority of time outside of our household. It is important as a step-parent to remove yourself from the situation, look at the whole picture, and allow yourself to evolve and become open to the child’s perspective. I realized that I couldn’t look at my daughter’s life from my eyes, but rather, I had to start seeing the environment we provided for her from her eyes. This is extremely important when you are raising a child and have missed out on some key time in his or her life. Starting to look at the world through her eyes made me realize adults create barriers with the words step-parent. The reality is, blended families create three to four parents for a child, and two households with separate rules, ideals, expectations and lifestyles. Communication, empathy, listening and understanding are all key in ensuring that expectations are realistic and that the blended family is mixed well and no one feels isolated or left out.
When I spoke to my daughter about the hardest adjustments for her living in a blended household, it wasn’t when I came into her life and dated and eventually married her dad, but it was when her first sibling in our household was born. After nine years of being an only child in our household, she remembers becoming jealous when her brother was born. In a child’s eyes, they don’t clue into the sleep you deprived yourself of so that you could play a board game with them, or the work you put off so that you could play with them. They remember when you had to hold the baby and couldn’t give them attention. There is really no remedy that I could find for this. When parents have a new infant, the infant is helpless and requires the majority of attention from the parents. My husband and I both communicated with our daughter and tried to explain that we would give her as much time and attention as we could, but that babies needed the attention and assistance so that they could thrive. As she grew older, she grasped an understanding, but the only thing we could do was communicate with her. It is important to know that you will not be able to fix all negative feelings, but if you communicate the whys, children mature and begin to understand that you were doing the best you could for them at the time.
Another important thing about being in a blended family is knowing that it is okay that as a step-parent the bond you have with your biological child(ren) is different than the bond you have with the child(ren) you chose to marry as yours. When you are with a child from birth, you know everything about them and have been a familiar and loving encounter from the first moment he or she came into the world. When you choose to become a parent in a child’s life and have not had the privilege of the intimacy from birth, there is a piece of that relationship that is missing, so it will be a different bond. It is substantial to note that you both chose each other, though, and you continue to choose each other every day.
In summary, do not expect perfection, but rather, keep your mind and heart open to the child you are essentially adopting into your life, and ride the waves wherever they may take you. Make communication with your spouse and all children a priority, and learn that you will make mistakes, but that you can take those mistakes, evolve into a better person and parent because of them, and allow yourself to grow into the parent you want to be for all of your children.