You meet, you begin dating, and you purposely take things slow as you think about becoming a stepfamily because of a million little reasons (and some not so little – like a high conflict ex).
Eventually, introductions to the kids are made, and the first attempts at blending are carefully orchestrated. You meet on neutral territory with kid-focused activities, so there is a chance the kids are just distracted enough that there isn’t any pressure on anyone. It all goes really well, so you keep moving forward.
Dating, engagement, marriage! How exciting!
You and your partner have worked hard to get to the point where you are officially blended! You’ve moved in, decided on room arrangements and everyone in the stepfamily seems to be settling in…until they aren’t.
The conflicts may start out small. For example, you ask your stepchild to do his chores and he pushes back, “Mom never made me do the dishes; it’s not my job.” Your own child, who once thought it would be great to finally have a sister, has started arguing with her stepsister about everything under the sun.
Comments like, “You’re not my parent” and “Why do I have to share my room with her?” become common.
Even you and your partner are at odds more often than ever before. You correct your stepson’s rude attitude and instead of backing you up, your spouse defends their biological child.
Welcome to life after the honeymoon…blended style!
All too often, this is the scene within stepfamily homes. Life seems great for a while and you’re thinking, “We’ve got this!” until life shows you maybe you actually don’t. Things that you never expected start to strike a nerve and cause arguments.
So, you might be wondering what the heck happened. How did you get to this point?
Honestly, it’s not your fault. It is a lack of preparation for things you didn’t know to prepare for!
There are pre-marriage classes that encourage you to talk about finances, faith, and general family life. However, they don’t focus on the challenges of blended family life.
Let’s face it; there are things stepcouples have to prepare for that a first-time married couple will never have to deal with. You have to learn how to be a stepparent, blend two households, deal with custody arrangements, handle switch days and negotiate the crazy schedules of multiple kids coming and going to other parents’ homes while still trying to make a routine at yours!
So, what was missing? What could have helped prevent some of these struggles?
Well, first of all, I encourage engaged stepcouples to do the work of building a strong family foundation before you say, “I do.” Trust me, if you don’t make the mistake of assuming things will “just fall into place” and intentionally work on creating a shared vision, family values, and goals (what I call the family foundation), you’ll be ahead of the curve on some of the typical stepfamily challenges.
If you’re already married, it’s not too late! Yes, you’re in the deep water, but by reinforcing your parenting partnership through creating a shared and clearly defined family foundation, you will be able to “work the problem” as a team instead of falling into the blame game.
In addition, you will also increase your consistency in messaging to the kids, which reduces confusion and improves the likelihood of better behavior. When children know what is expected, they have a higher success rate of “hitting the mark.”
As a parenting and stepfamily coach, I see the difference it makes for couples (and their family) when they take a step back and really dig deep into topics like roles, expectations, discipline, and more effective communication. A little work now saves a lot of stress later.
So yes, after the honeymoon, there will be growing pains, especially in blended families. It is a learning process to live together and function as a family unit. The more prepared you and your partner are to deal with those growing pains together, the more likely your family will bond and blend the way you envisioned on the day you said, “I do.”
So, focus on the big 3 (vision, values and goals) and remember that just as every home needs a solid foundation, so does every stepfamily. You’ve got this!