My fiancé and I have four young children. She has a daughter and a son, and I have two sons. With our wedding date quickly approaching, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to have a successful blended family.
Out of the Mouths of Babes
It’s 3:00 AM and I can’t sleep. I keep hearing the voices of our kids, over and over in my head.
“Mommy is going to be mad if we stay up late.”
“My dad lets me watch that show.”
“She’s not our sister!”
“I don’t want to come to the wedding.”
That last one stings.
We have four parents in this equation. All with different views on what’s best for our children. It can be stressful. It can be annoying. Ultimately our success is not judged by our personal comfort, but by the experience of our children. Here are some insights I have gained over the past few years:
- Like it or not, your ex is still a part of your family.
- Your kids will get jealous of her kids.
- Your kids may have trouble warming up to your new partner.
- Expect difficult conversations.
Like It Or Not, Your Ex Is Still Part of Your Blended Family
When I first got divorced I had this idea that it was going to be just me and my boys. When they were with me, we would do things our own way. No mom to interfere. Man, was I wrong! Though she is not physically present in my home, her influence is always there.
This fact used to annoy me. It still does sometimes. Like when my oldest son expresses an opinion on politics which clearly came straight from his mother’s mouth. It would be easy for me to snap, or fire off a sarcastic remark. But, looking at the bigger picture I have to choose my words carefully. I ask questions instead of focusing on how I may disagree.
The reality is, the boys still love their mom. They value her opinion. I divorced her, but they didn’t. Virginia Gilbert clearly articulates this point in this Huffington Post article You May Be Divorced, But You’re Still a Family.
My boys have started asking me questions about how their mom and I met. Initially, this made me uncomfortable. I don’t really want to talk about the good old times anymore. It feels like another lifetime. Here’s the thing though – my history with their mother is a part of their history. They deserve to hear the stories.
The bottom line is, when it comes to the mother of your children, don’t be a jerk. Kids are smart. They pick up on those subtle verbal jabs. Put yourself in their position, and accept the fact that she is still a part of your new, blended family. The roles have changed, but the fact remains.
Your Kids Will Be Jealous of Her Kids
I found this out the hard way. Our kids have always gotten along pretty well. Of course there have been little spats here and there, but that’s just normal kid stuff.
One day I had the three oldest kids (my boys and her daughter) at the park. They all had their bikes, and my fiancé’s daughter wanted to learn to ride without training wheels. We had attempted it before, when the boys weren’t around, and it was disastrous. She was too scared.
Seeing my oldest son zipping around the park gave her the determination she needed. After about 30 minutes of me pushing her and encouraging her, she finally got it! I called to the boys to come check her out. I expected them to cheer her on and be excited. What I got was half-hearted applause and reluctant praise.
Later, when we all went home, I took my nine-year-old aside and asked him why he wasn’t happy for her. His face twisted and he wouldn’t talk. I kept pleading with him to talk to me. He kept refusing. Finally, he caved. With tears welling up in his eyes, he told me that he was upset because I was happier about her learning to ride her bike than I was when he did.
Now, with tears welling up in my eyes, I reminded him that I wasn’t there when he learned how to ride. He had learned while out of state visiting his grandparents. I reassured him that I was so proud of him that day. I told him how sad I was that I couldn’t be there. I told him I was sorry that I made him feel that way.
If you’re in a blended family, you have probably run into this. Remember to validate your kid’s feelings. Sometimes, being heard is enough to break through their emotional wall. Let them express their anger (respectfully, of course).
Don’t be defensive. If your goal is to protect them and guide them through the adjustments of your new blended family, you have to let go of your right to justify your actions. Listen to them and hear the real issues behind what they say. Set aside one-on-one time with your kids. Also, when appropriate, an apology goes a long way.
Your Kids May Not Accept Your New Partner
My ex does not like my fiancé. She doesn’t know her, but she doesn’t like her, or the idea of me getting remarried. She has not hidden this fact from my boys. So, it is no surprise that they have been distant towards my wife-to-be. They like her. She’s very good to them. But, in the four years we’ve been together, the relationship between her and the boys has barely progressed.
I believe they are afraid of liking her too much. As if, somehow, liking her would betray their mother.
I believe they are afraid of liking her too much. As if somehow liking her would betray their mother. It creates a tone of awkwardness in our house at times. To her credit, my fiancé has never pushed herself on them. I have told them they will never have to call her mom or anything like that. I have explained that she makes daddy happy, but still they have a wall up.
If you’re dealing with a similar challenge, I suggest you talk to your ex about it, if you can. Try to keep the conversation about what’s best for the kids and away from the two of you. You both want what is best for your kids. Understanding that common ground is key to creating peace and reducing inner conflict for your kids.
Expect Difficult Conversations
I have had many difficult conversations with all four kids over the years. The most difficult of these surrounds the subject of my upcoming wedding. My fiancé’s daughter is thrilled. My sons are not. They bristle when their soon to be stepsister calls them her brothers. The have both told me they don’t want to be in the wedding. I understand where they are coming from, but it still hurts.
How do I balance my desire to share this moment with them and their rejection and discomfort with the idea? I have tried to discuss it with them. I’ve tried talking to their mom about it. They just don’t want to come. So, I will not force it on them.
It’s uncomfortable to see my step daughter’s excitement contrasted with their avoidance. We are a family, so we take it head on. I don’t hide my excitement. I will respect their emotions, but I will not hide my happiness. In time they will see that it’s ok.
Difficult conversations will be a part of your blended family. Don’t delay having those talks. Prepare yourself by reading something like this: How to Have Difficult Conversations with Family. Embrace the opportunities as a chance to teach your kids how to resolve conflict, and show love, even when you disagree.
Blended families can be messy. Real life is almost nothing like The Brady Bunch. But, if you practice open communication, you may find that you’ve created children who are better prepared for the real world.
Want more tips on managing a blended family? Read Peter Bowd’s frustrating experience with Being A Stepdad Post-Divorce. And don’t miss Seven Tips for Consistent Co-Parenting after Divorce by the intrepid Aileen O’Leary.
Tell us your step-family challenges in the comments below!
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