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Blended Families

Putting together a blended family is somewhat like building a house. It takes time, planning, adjustments as you go, cooperation from everyone involved, and resources. A house doesn’t come together because you wish it to be so, and neither will a blended family come together just because you wish it would work.

In many ways, blending parts of two families together is more difficult than creating a first family. Now you are most likely dealing with former spouses whether living or dead, former in-laws, and children. In addition, you may still be wrestling with the failure of your first marriage or grieving over your first mate’s death. So you come into this relationship a bit wounded--with your guard up. We would like to make several suggestions to help your blended family succeed.

1. ALLOW TIME FOR THE BLENDING TO TAKE PLACE. The authors of the Indelible Family say that it takes two to three years to form the systems, sub-systems, and special identity call "family." Allow each person in the new family the necessary months or years for the growing and adapting they need.

Each person is very different and must be treated as an individual. Children age six to eleven quite often are rule-oriented, may be very protective of the first family, and may strongly resist any blending process. Teens, on the other hand, are usually struggling to establish their own identity. They may find that having to work on their own growth, plus adapting to the blended family, is an emotional overload.

Parents tend to be ahead of the children in blending the family. After all, you probably didn’t take the kids out on your dates, so they may be three months to a year behind the adjustments that you and your new spouse have made.

You also need time to work through the previous death or divorce. As a general rule, a minimum of one year is needed to adjust to such a loss. It’s necessary to go through a full year cycle without the mate at any holiday, birthday, vacation, or special occasion. More time may be required if there is deep-seated grief or guilt attached to the former relationship. Professional help my be necessary if a serious problem persists.

Time may be required to allow grandparents, relative, friends, and the old support community to adjust to the new blended family. In short, don’t feel like you or your mate has failed if the blending process takes two or three years.

2.
ACCEPT DIFFERENCES. You and your spouse come form two other family systems with different ways of looking at life and handling problems. You need to acknowledge those differences.

Talk openly about each matter--child discipline, money, goals for the children and your family over the next five years. Talk about feelings. For example, you may discuss money as a budget, but how do you feel about the spending of money? Most marriages are held together because there is basic agreement at the feeling level as well as at the idea level.

Ephesians 4:2 says, "put up with one another in love." Accept the fact your mate is different. That difference is good, because it adds something extra to your relationship.

3.
ACCENT SIMILARITIES. Focus on positive areas of your marriage. You do have many common values, experiences, hopes, activities, and foods. You do love each other, God, the Scriptures, your children, and your friends. Sometimes the blending process focuses on the negative. However, one of the speediest ways to adjust is to focus on your similarities. That doesn’t mean we ignore the stress points, but we commit ourselves to speaking of the positives twice as often as the negatives. make that a pattern. If you have a complaint, express two positives before you deal with the complaint.

Talk it up with your kids. Tell the kids and your mate they are great. Praise God with each other because He has drawn you all together.

4.
MAKE A COMMITMENT TO RELATIONSHIPS--MATE--CHILDREN--FAMILIES--GOD. Blending is difficult! You’ll be tempted to say, "Your kids cause all the problems." You must reaffirm your commitment to work toward solutions. Without the commitment to stick it out and spend the necessary two to three years for adjustments, your marriage may not survive.

Something that will help commitment is to work toward an agreement in each area. Each agreement that you arrive at helps your overall adjustment. It’s easier to be committed if you see progress taking place.

Don’t be embarrassed to ask for help. If you develop a cavity in a tooth, you aren’t ashamed to go to a dentist. Nor do you feel guilty-well, not unless you’ve been scarfing down candy! In the same way, if the blending process is not going smoothly, ask for some outside help. Catch the problem in your marriage while it can still be helped with a minor adjustment. You're not bad people because you need help. God gave all these gifts to Christians in the body of Christ so that we can help each other.

5.
COMMUNICATION IS A MUST. The Coca-Cola slogan says, "Things go better with Coke." Remember, in the blended family, "things go better with talk." If you’ve come out of a broken marriage, probably one of the major causes for that breakup was the inability to communicate. Think about it! You may have had trouble over money, sex, in-laws, or career--but the common ingredient is poor communication.

Try this process for awhile: Sit down with one family member and ask him/her to tell you the two things he/she most likes about the new blended family and the one thing that causes the most stress. Listen carefully, so that you can repeat to that person what you hear him/her sharing with you. Give eye contact so that he/she feels you are genuinely interested in knowing what he/she thinks and feels. Most people will just share ideas, not feelings. If that happens, say, "Now how do you feel about that?" After the person has shared, then say, "Now let me check if I have heard you accurately. You are saying that...."

After you have both shared, say, "Isn’t it great that there are so many common things that draw us together? Isn’t it good that we’ve worked through some things already? Now, what changes do you suggest we make to help our family relationship be even stronger?" With these new suggestions, follow the same process. Be sure you hear both the ideas and the feelings and reflect back.

The next step is to agree on what can be changed at this time. Things that cannot be changed will be left for a future discussion. agree about who is going to do what. End up by saying, "Well, we didn’t resolve everything, but we did make some progress. Let’s commit ourselves to each other and to God in this blending process." Do this with each family member, and encourage everyone to do the same with each other. Remember to focus on the positive.

6.
DEVELOPING A NEW FAMILY IDENTITY. Remember, everything is new. Everyone is struggling to adjust to the new family and in their own personal development. The new "family identity" will come about almost unnoticed as you talk, express feelings, hug and touch, and affirm each other. Time together will build a new blended family history.

Kids don’t have to forget their former family in order to develop a new family identity. In fact, they will develop the family identity more quickly if they feel that it’s all right to hold onto some of the good memories of the past. Explain to them that the new family is like meeting a new friend. You don’t quit loving your old friend, you just expand your life and enjoy your new friends as well.

There will be new rules, new values, a new game, and new people to relate to. There may be some old jealousies to deal with, but they don’t all need to be handled this week. Remember, you need two to three years for this adjustment to take place.

You’ll know that your family has established its new blended identity when they start saying "our family," "my brother and sister," "my mom and dad." You can encourage the new identity by letting everyone share in the family process. Plan activities for the family as a group. "Where would you like to go on vacation this year? How about a late afternoon picnic on Thursday?" Choose fun activities that might be new experiences for everybody. "Let’s all go jet-skiing, hiking into the mountains, canoeing on the river, sailing at night, cross-country skiing!" Let everyone throw in his ideas. Then ask, "Okay, how can we pull this off?" Let the group come up with an idea and let the group plan how they’re going to do it. If they have to sacrifice a bit in order to accomplish their goal, it will pull them even closer together.

Blending pieces of two families into one new family unit is not an easy task--but God will be there to help you! "Blessings on all who reverence and trust the Lord--on all who obey Him! Their reward shall be prosperity and happiness. Your wife shall be contented in your home. And look at those children! There they sit around the dinner table as vigorous and healthy as young olive trees. That is God’s reward to those who reverence and trust him." Psalm 128:1-4 (TLB)


Conway / Farrel Articles ~    Reprint by permission only,  ©2011

Midlife Dimensions ~ www.Midlife.com

  

The Conways and Farrels are international speakers and popular authors.

Midlife Dimensions is a ministry founded by the Conways and continued by the Farrels.