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To give full context of our family dynamic, we are currently blending a family (married September 19, 2020) that lost a spouse (me) with three kids, seven, six, and four, and one from divorce (Dustin) with a five year old.
Blending a family is a beautiful thing.
You’ve found love after living in a state of singleness which is a blessing! The dynamic of blending a family, combining two completely different families as one is…
And it is work. It is humbling and exhausting and fulfilling and emotional.
The statistics speak for themselves. The U.S. divorce rate is currently at 45%, the divorce rate for blended families is at nearly 67% (and 73% for third marriages!).
BUT. I believe that being aware of the difficulties that may come with remarriage and blending a family, you are preparing yourself to beat the odds!
So Here It Is.
There really is is no honeymoon stage in a remarriage when there are kids involved. It is more like jumping right into a war zone.
The reality is, you both entered into this union with the best of intentions, maybe even a heavy dose of naivity (guilty!). But no matter how much preparation and research you do, the true reality of the marriage can only unfold once the vows are stated and everyone is under the same roof.
And it is kind of a mess. And it is so difficult. But also with a huge amount of joy and gratification.
I will be honest and I was completely underprepared for how hard blending a family would be. It wasn’t even the dynamic of me and my new husband, it was everything else. So many people and logistics and things to do.
You married him, but also his children, his family, AND his ex.
It is helping the kids get used to each other.
It is understanding each kid’s quirks and needs.
It is his daughter getting used to having siblings and sharing her dad, which she has never had to do before.
It is my children learning that it was ok to love another dad, without feeling like they were being disloyal to their birth dad.
It is us learning what we want as a couple and trying to not let our prior relationships and experiences affect our current one.
It is his daughter learning that it is ok to like me without feeling guilty and that it would take away from the love she had for her mom. And me learning to not take it personally when there was distance between her and I for seemingly no reason.
It is a million new logistical dynamics, and for me learning what it was like to have a coparenting schedule.
It is learning to love a child I didn’t create, but also not being able to have her all the time.
It is being with my three all the time and only having Elliott half the time, and attempting to treat them all the same and not overcompensate for missing her and feeling bad for her splitting time.
It is Dustin learning to help the kids grieve their dad and for us to learn as a family where Marcus fits in and is appropriate.
it is wanting what is best for Elliott but understanding it isn’t up to just Dustin and me.
It is learning how to discipline kids that need correction, but trying to find the balance of what is right in every scenario. Understanding what is grief, what is acting out for attention, and what is normal age indicative behavior.
It is us learning how to be husband and wife and build a strong, united front, all while juggling these factors.
I don’t say this to scare you or steer you away if blending a family is in your future, more to prepare you.
I’ll put it this way:
a newly blended family is like a house remodel.
When we first got married, we rented a house until we knew what we wanted to do next. We found the perfect house that needed a ton of work, but we were both all in! Just like with our vision with our family. We knew it would be hard, a lot of work, but we could envision what the final result would look like. And weighing all the options, we went for it.
Papers were signed, boxed unpacked, and the dreaming began. Then renovation (blending) started, and the honeymoon period (if there even was one) ended.
Pretty much as soon as we got married, we realized we had a lot more coming at us than we anticipated. But there’s no going back now. The walls are torn down to the studs, dust everywhere, and it is hard to even remember what the intended vision was going to be. All you can see is the chaos and brokenness around you.
But that is exactly where you start. Back to the plans, mapping out each wall and finish. Staying on the same page, holding each other through the hard days and moments, and remembering how beautiful the end result will be. Clinging to the dreams and plans for the family, and praying for patience and strength to get there. Simply saying to each other that it is harder than anticipated, but reminding yourselves of the goal.
The reality of blending a family is that it is HARD work. It is exhausting, managing so many emotions and personalities, and a lot of external factors that are simply out of your control (think the ex(s), more families involved, syncing expectations for all children and attempting to achieve “fair” for everyone).
If you are planning on blending a family or are new into a blended family dynamic:
Pray. Pray for your family, for each child, for you both as parents. Pray for the parents and grandparents of the children, for the ex’s and/or family of husbands/wives that have passed away. The truth is that there are a lot of people and personalities involved when blending a family. The true key to success will be submission to God and allowing Him to be sovereign in your family and those who are involved, even in a broader sense. The ripple effect of blending is far beyond your new immediate family and will take time and adjusting for many groups of people.
Communicate. Don’t be afraid to vocalize to your partner your needs and feelings. It is ok to need some time apart, or some time with just your nuclear family. With how complex and heavy the blending process is, some space to recharge might be necessary. And it is ok to admit that you need a break. Some of the transitions won’t come naturally and will take a lot of time to find your groove. Lower your expectations and rest when you need it so you can be the best version of yourself for the kids. Taking time for yourself is not selfish, it allows you to return refreshed and be more present.
Community. Find people that are walking or have walked a similar path. Like any other life circumstance, you don’t understand it until you’ve experienced it for yourself. They can encourage, relate, offer advice, or a shoulder to lean on. Their foresight and wisdom is so valuable and may help your decision making and responses to situations.
Involve the Children. Keep the dialogue with the kids open. Allow them to have whatever feelings they have without guilt. Provide consistent check ins to see how they are doing. (And I reiterate, don’t guilt them for any feelings they have. You want them to feel safe and comfortable). The truth is that this transition is probably easier for you than it is for them. You and your husband met, had a lot of quality time getting to know each other, and fell in love. The kids are on the earlier side of things and will need time to establish trust and build relationships. Keeping the communication streams open will only help understand where they are and how you as parents can help them in the transition.
One on One. Mine didn’t have a dad for a long time, so they crave that individual time with Dustin. Elliott is getting used to sharing and having siblings in general, so she often needs quality time with just dad. And the same goes with me for each kid- Elliott and I are still learning each other, so quality time just her and I, no distractions, goes a long way. And my kids need me just as much as they always have, my attention is just more divided. So all around, time with just one kid at a time is extremely valuable. It doesn’t even need to be a big fancy date, it can be one kid hopping in the car to run an errand with dad. Me cooking dinner with one kid and discussing how things are going in school. They will feel more connected and special, you will hopefully have an opportunity for a check in to see how things are going in their life, and a moment to be with mom or dad..
Here are some prompts for you to ask the kids:
- How do you feel about blending a family?
- What is hard?
- What is good?
- What do you miss about life before we became a family?
- What do you wish was different?
Don’t force it. Allow time to work in your favor. If you are like me, then you are very idealistic about how things should be. But, that is not always reality. When blending a family, time can be the most important factor.
If you know a family who is newly blended, here are some ways you can help:
Ask how they are doing without any judgement. Allow a safe space for them to be honest and vent if needed. With all the dynamics that are involved with blending, having an outlet is very important. Offer to help them with kids to give them time for themselves, as a couple, or watching a kid or two if one needs individual attention.
Give them grace. Understand the delicate dance they are trying to navigate and emotions that come with it. Offer help when possible, and treat all children involved the same, even if they are new in your world. And try not to assume or impose what you would do if you were in their shoes. Every family is so unique, even in blended families.
For the Kids:
And these ones I haven’t read yet but I have heard good things and are on my list:
Stay tuned for part two- blending a family from the kids’ point of view. They are excited to give feedback, what has been good, bad, and ugly. Sign up for my newsletter to get directly to your inbox!
I really hope that was helpful! This was not at all meant to scare anyone away from entering into blending a family, more offer some great thinking and talking points before you make that jump.
Click here to see more of our blending family experience. See this post to see the post about loving Dustin and his role of dad after losing Marcus. And this one about helping the kids adjust to life with Dustin after losing their dad.
Photos by Rachel White
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