I met my future husband for the first time on Super Bowl Sunday of February 2012. He had 2 daughters. I had 2 daughters. Together we had four girls ages 6, 7, 8, 9. Cue Brady Bunch theme song . . . the most famous blended family of all!
And so it began: We jumped in with both feet!
By July, we were all living together. All six of us even went to Disney World together the next month. We rode an airplane together for the first time, stayed in a hotel together for the first time, faced the Disney madness together for the first time, endured the August heat of Florida together for the first time.
If Disney was a test, then I would say we passed. And I will attest that if you can make it in Disney as a blended family, you can make it anywhere!
In retrospect I realize we were in the honeymoon stage. And while it was wonderful and sweet, I had not given a lot of thought to the longer term plan: the nuts and bolts of blending a family.
That is to say, we just winged it.
So now, 7 years later, I can look back and share with you what I think are the 4 mistakes I made when blending my family. My hope is to offer some insight or advice for blending a family of your own.
Mistake #1: I didn’t do my homework.
I did not read one single book of advice for blending a family. Not one magazine article, not one Facebook post, not one podcast. Nothing, nada, squat.
There are a lot of moms and dads out there who have been down this road and would have prepared me better for future ups and downs. If I had listened to advice for blending a family, maybe I could have avoided certain pitfalls and downright disasters. Parenting stepchildren and figuring out how to co-parent with your partner were like Olympic sports I signed up for without training.
One of the most surprising challenges was learning how to blend cultures and customs. For example, every family has pre-established holiday traditions at Halloween or Christmas. It can be hard, when blending a family, to have someone else come in with their own ways of doing things. I did not anticipate that. And I’ll tell you, even 7 years later, this Christmas I went a little nutty when we were decorating the tree because THEY were not doing it my way (the right way).
See, I told you. Hard.
What might help you:
- Read some advice for blending a family on a blog like Kate Chapman’s This Life in Progress. She pretty much nails it.
- Prep your kids with books on blended families for children.
- Blended Family Podcast. There are 200 episodes so a lot of information to chose from. Like mine, her children are teens. I recently listened to episode 84 (13 minutes): “Don’t Focus on What You Cannot Change!”. If you like a self-help bent to your material, then you will like Melissa on Blended. She’s a real mom/stepmom so she gets it.
Mistake #2: We overlooked one-on-one time with each child.
We did not set up designated time for our own children or our stepchildren. We each failed to create a block of time to have alone time with our own kids. Additionally, we also didn’t create alone time with our stepchildren. The kids resented the reduced time with their own parent now that there were more kids in the picture. Plus, we missed an opportunity to create a more meaningful connecting with our new children right off the bat. A simple monthly breakfast date or walk around the block would have sufficed. We thought doing EVERYTHING TOGETHER was better for the kids. Now, we separate tribes pretty regularly and I lament that everyone would have benefited from pre-scheduled and clearly defined original or step parent time.
What might help you:
Decide what are your lines in the sand. Doing so may create that solo time you all need. Something I felt I did right was keeping current bedtime rituals. For me, blended lives did not mean blended bedtimes. My girlies were and are early to bed and early to rise. Plus going to bed with just 2 little girls brushing teeth and washing faces returned us to the quieter days of pre-blend. It also gave us some needed mommy/daughter time of reading books, talking and snuggling.
There are a ton of books out there for stepmothers. I loved Stepmotherhood: How to Survive Without Feeling Frustrated, Left Out, or Wicked but if it doesn’t appeal to you, below its page in Amazon is a ton of suggested reading. What I look for in an author is a stepmom who has her own children and is a stepparent as well. A woman who is only a stepparent and not walking the tightrope of mom/stepmom does not speak to my circumstance. Find what speaks to you.
Mistake #3: We were afraid to let them fight.
As it were, we let the blood siblings fight and would – and do – typically say “go work it out yourselves.” However, when the steps argue we made all sorts of accommodations and really stuck our parent noses in it. My advice is DON’T. Let them fight it out just like every other set of siblings out there. We have learned that walking on eggshells does not allow them to fight, yell, storm out and subsequently talk it out. Step siblings have to find their own common ground on their own sisterly or brotherly terms.
What might help you:
- This quick article “10 Things Only Step-Siblings Can Relate To” by Julia Kitlinski-Hong reminds us adults about some of the peaks and valleys step children have to adjust to in their lives. For example birth order or the rotating holiday schedule. Keeping this in mind might shed light on the deeper reason steps sometimes fight: there is a lot on their plate.
- Lastly, the blog “9 Ways to Help Your Child Deal with Step Siblings is written by a mom, Samantha Darby. She succinctly itemizes some good tips when you are initially bringing your blended family online. THIS is the list I wish I had 7-years ago that would have sparked some conversations with my partner and helped us establish some ground rules.
Mistake #4: We had to figure out discipline.
Talk with your spouse ahead of time about boundaries for discipline. I am an alpha mom so I typically discipline and boss everyone around in the household! Give me a playground full of children and I’ll discipline any unruly child in sight! This was mostly ok with my husband but not always.
What might help you:
When I’ve stepped over my husband’s toes in the discipline department, we talk about it privately and not in front of the kids. We are both open to modification. However, if we did not have full custody of his daughters, my role as a stepmom in their life might be a lot different and I may have not taken on all the motherly duties that I did. Understanding the situation you’re in will help you figure out what kind of stepparent you want to be. I found this post on how to talk to kids super helpful.
The truth is no matter what, there were always going to be mistakes made when blending our family. That is just the nature of parenting. But I can say confidently that we are a home filled with love and friendship and I am very proud of the life that we created. We even blended our name! Our blended family affectionately calls ourselves The Chullivans (Chute-Sullivan).