If you have been through a divorce or, worse, have lost a beloved spouse to death, you feel emotionally very shaky about your worth and your ability to move forward in the world. Then, miracle of miracles, you meet someone special and the two of you hit it off very well. You seem to have a lot in common; you value many of the same things and as the relationship develops you find you can learn to like the things that are different about the two of you. He likes baseball: you’d rather stay home and read a book but the two of you find a way to compromise on these issues. This person seems like a perfect mate to help you raise your children. Your mother always told you to pick someone with common interests!!
Next, we bring the children together and they are tense at first but then they seem to find common ground and you think, ‘the expression that love is enough, seems to be true.’ That is until the wedding bells have rung and we all now live in the same house. So often a couple is so smitten with each other that they turn a blind eye to the tensions growing between the children. He says, “Give them time. They’ll figure it out.” So you look away and the troubles in the house grow larger.
No! They won’t figure it out because the children have never been in this situation where they now have to share their parent with someone else as well as share them with other children. (There could have been a second parent in the previous household but if it is a divorce these parents were not on equal ground and the children know this. With a death it is a bit different.) And you thought sibling rivalry was bad in your own first little family!! Children have to see the parents setting the path of communication, acceptance (and that is acceptance of the other person’s children), patience, and basically what you do in these relational situations. And then we come to that ugly word: structure. Yes, children need structure; sometimes only so that they have something to rail against, but it truly does make them feel safer. It is hard on you to hold the line but you must do that if you want well-functioning adults to come out of this combined household. The greater world doesn’t give in to temper tantrums.
And one other very important factor is that you need to set up activities that the whole combined family does together. Nothing glues a family together as well as
building a common history. My husband Sy and I did many activities with our children to help start this process of common history. One event that didn’t make it into my first book, A Bird and the Dragon, Their Love Story: A Memoir is ‘bacon in the back seat.’ I believe it was the Memorial Day weekend and Sy and I had decided we would take the girls on a picnic. We had found a state park with a pond, picnic area, and space to play games if they so desired. With girls of their ages they wanted to lie in the sun and stock the boys—from the safety of their beach blankets.
I got it into my head that one of the items on the picnic list was scallops wrapped in bacon. The girls had loved them when I had done them once at home so I started out to make these delicacies while Sy got stuck rounding up much of the rest of the picnic and the paraphernalia. And of course the bacon didn’t want to stay wrapped on the scallops and the scallops all wanted to cook at different speeds and it was becoming long and not so successful. We finally got everything loaded into the red Chevrolet cargo van along with all the girls in bathing suits, with towels and extra clothes. As we drove toward the park the sky was getting darker and darker. I’m beating myself up
inside because my need for perfection had set us behind by a good bit. Just as we pulled into the parking lot the sky opened up and it poured rain. You could hear the outraged disappointment from the back of the van. “We’re going to have to turn around and go home!” one girl said. Then I heard, “We drove all this way to go swimming and now we can’t! Some picnic!!” Someone else said my exact thoughts, “What was all the bother for? The picnic is ruined.” And then my Beloved said, “What do you mean the picnic is spoiled? I’m not turning around and driving home!” I looked at him in surprise because he often wanted things to go “right.” And he said back to my glance, “We’re going to spread out the blanket in the back of the van, open the back doors so you can hang your feet out into the rain, and lay out our picnic there on the blanket.”
I think it was one of the best picnics we ever had. The girls got to giggling as they got
their bare feet wet and when they tired of that they curled up on the seats and told ghost stories, and gossiped and I was amazed. They needed structure: the picnic. Then they needed to see that a picnic could be done in a different way. And lastly they needed to see that the parents didn’t blame each other but came up with an alternative plan. There was no “drama!” Just good clean fun!! Yes structure, acceptance, and flexibility–you can survive a blended family.
Have you with blended families found these to be some of the problems in getting the family to run as a unit? I’d like to hear your stories.