This is the second in a series on blended families. If you want to read about some truly happy aspects of this topic, check out the first post HERE. And if you want a completely honest look into some of the tougher parts of blended family life, then read on. I don’t have many solutions, but I do have firsthand experience to share about how I get through some of the more difficult phases of this process. Other families undoubtedly have their own unique sets of challenges; I’ll speak to some of the ones we’ve had to navigate.
If your children have more than one parent in their lives, you have most likely had a different opinion than that other parent at some point. Decisions become even more complicated when you choose to consider how your kids’ other parents will feel about a haircut, extracurricular activity, or need to see a doctor. [I’m assuming you care about their opinion!] Kids understand – and even manipulate – more than we think they do, but it can’t be easy switching environments every 3-5 days as mine do. The best thing you can do for your kids is present a united front as parents who talk to each other. All parents aren’t always going to agree on everything, but it’ll make it easier in the long run if you can at least operate from the same book, if not the same page.
That brings me to everyone’s favorite topic – communication. Part of what makes parents great together stems from them caring enough about one another to talk about everything. That’s a lot more challenging when you’re co-parenting kids with exes you’d rather NOT have to talk to. My lawyer suggested some of the tools that my ex and I have used to overcome this in the past 4 years. We use a digital shared calendar to keep tabs on who has the kids when. This especially helps with exceptions to the routine and it provides an ultimate authority for resolving confusion. We also email every time we exchange the kids with any updates or questions. This provides a reference point for times we don’t remember how something went down and also helps us know what we missed while the other parent had the kids. Out of respect for our current spouses, we keep the frequency of communication to a minimum and still manage to keep each other informed of important information. Being remarried by definition means that my husband and I couldn’t make it work with the other parents of our children. I have learned from that and now make my husband a priority over all else – for the sake of our kids and our marriage.
How to Do “Step”
This is probably the toughest one of all. When I first combined families, I wanted more than anything for my house to feel like one family unit. And we are one family. However, I’ve also had to accept that it’s not that simple. As a step-parent, you’re supposed to love your step-kids like you love your own. Except for when their bio-parent is involved. Then you’re supposed to stand back. I’m completely guilty of feeling this way toward my kids’ stepmom, too. I tell everyone I’m so thrilled that she so clearly loves them, and yet I’ve had plenty of moments of selfishness and insecurity when I may disagree with what she sees as best for her stepchildren. I’ve reached a point that I now know that we’re all parents to these kids. The kids know who their “real” parents are, but they love all of us. As they should! So I think it’s important that we get over ourselves and take the lead from our kids. They’ll let us know when something’s out of whack.
That’s Not Fair!
It’s impossible to make everything fair all the time. We tend to be defensive of our own kids – even with our spouses –especially when it comes to how someone treats them. I don’t think we should expect our new in-laws to immediately love our kids as much as they do our spouse’s kids. I’m hypersensitive to this one after growing up with step-grandparents who made it pretty obvious that my brother and I were not their real grandkids. I actually think it’s better for kids to understand reality once they reach the right age rather than allowing them to stew about their perception of it. We haven’t hit that point yet, and it may never matter in my family since grandparents are beyond great with all of our kids. I do think it’s a conversation you should have with your spouse.
Remember that you can’t always treat kids the same – in any family – because all kids are different. Rules should be consistently applied no matter what, but that’s it. Some kids need more hugs. Some need more attention. You know your kids (and even your step-kids) and how they function best in your house. Own that.
There’s no getting around that you’ll miss your kids when they’re not with you – sometimes more than others. It still hasn’t gotten any easier for me. Around day 4, I always find myself looking at pictures and wishing they could just come home. It’s also selfishly rough knowing they’re experiencing lots of super fun stuff – without you. It’s not nearly as easy to get excited for them to go to Disney World when you probably won’t even see a picture of them smiling with Mickey Mouse. Having said that, I LOVE that they do so much with their other parents. I love that they live more in the country than I could ever handle, that they have a dog and chickens and even a baby sister – all without any extra work on my part. Major bonus. I know from my own childhood that it’s silly to compete with the other parents in any way. Our lives and even our priorities are sometimes different, and it’s pretty great that my kids get to experience such variety. The bottom line is I know they also have a great dad they love staying with. It’s definitely best for them to spend equal time with each of us.
I personally have had to pray quite a bit to get through this stuff. Whether or not that helps you, I do know that you need to be patient, especially with your own feelings through the process. My poor husband has had to exercise extreme patience as I relive some of the pain of growing up in a blended family through my own kids’ experiences. I think a positive outlook is the only one to have. Give everyone involved the benefit of the doubt, be honest with yourself, and count your blessings regularly. Blending families together requires an incredible amount of love, lots of grace, and a sense of humor. I highly recommend finding others who understand what you’re going through, savoring time alone with your spouse, and treasuring every single moment you have your kids. Hang in there through the difficult stuff. It all passes. And before you know it, your kids will be out of the house and you’ll have all new parenting issues to conquer.