Making Blended Families Work

Eight ways to successfully blend families together.

Posted Jul 07, 2020

Source: Fauxels/Pexels

Creating unity in a blended family can be difficult. There are old habits, alliances, norms, and expectations created by the previous family that could undermine the unity of the new. If not aware of and prepared for these potential pitfalls, blending a new family may be less than successful, which is quite sad since the potential of a blended family is beautiful.

Within the blended family concept are embedded ideas of redemption, second chances, acceptance, and a family unified by love and not blood. The best of humanity can be seen in blended families, and so can the worst. Blending two families together is a high-risk, high-reward endeavor. The divorce rate is higher for couples remarrying, who are blending two families together. Why is it so hard for blended families to stay intact and healthy?

Below are eight suggestions on how to keep your blended family intact and thriving:

Define Expectations: Creating a sense of belonging with your new family is something that each member wants and needs. But how do you create that sense of belonging? What do you do? Give each member of the family the opportunity to express their expectations and needs, and commit, as a family, to honor those expectations and needs. The result is a sense of ownership. Family members aren't simply passing through, they are active participants in the wellbeing of the family. The family needs them. Or, else, it will all fall apart. Belonging and ownership bring responsibility, bBut the conversation isn't over at this point. Not everyone may be on board with said expectations and needs. What do you do? 

Negotiate Expectations: When everyone has had a chance to share their expectations and needs, there may be some disagreement if an expectation is to be honored or not. Or, someone’s expectation may conflict with another person’s. This is not a crisis, but an opportunity for everyone to practice good listening and respectful negotiation. If the kids want a later bedtime during the weekends, instead of having a ready answer, let them make a case for that expectation. Then, both parties should be open to counter-offers and compromises. There may be some expectations that are a hard “yes” or “no,” but you may be surprised by how many expectations are negotiable. When negotiation is done well, family members feel a greater sense of belonging, investment, and connection to the new family unit.

A Firm Foundation: The expectations your family negotiated create a firm foundation of values for your blended family to stand on. Not sure what I mean? To negotiate expectations, certain values were operating without notice. When someone spoke and others listened, the value of mutual respect was on display. Additionally, you now have a template that can be applied to all future problems. If a family member isn’t meeting their end of the bargain, instead of beating them over the head with mockery, accusations, or guilt-trips, go to what you know works: respect, positive communication, effective listening, and valuing each other’s perspective. These values are useful for reaching conflict resolution, and there will undoubtedly be conflict in blended families. Make these values and skills the bedrock of your family.

Feet in Both Camps: A strong connection to one family is not a rejection of the other. What do I mean by that? An individual may feel a stronger connection to one family. And that’s OK. That should not be seen as a threat to the new family being blended. You are not betraying one family by engaging, participating, or enjoying the new family that’s being created and vice versa. However, to insist that a child, for example, like or feel connected to only one family will create division; to perceive a child's connection to one family as a threat to yours, will create division. The better approach is to make your family as welcoming as possible, without putting judgments on how a child feels.

Grace: Give each other grace. There are going to mishaps, stepping on each other’s toes, and mistakes. Forming a new family unit is not an easy process. Grace allows relationships to be elastic when stretched, and when you blend two families there will be stretching. The grace that will help your family make blending possible, will also enable your family to go the distance. Take the opportunity to make grace the culture of your new family.

Comparisons: Comparing one family to another can be dangerous. I encourage families I work with to appreciate the strengths of each family. And to avoid seeing the strengths of one as a condemnation of the other. It’s far too easy to make comparisons and complain. Take the high road and find value where you can.

Cooperation: Divorce and separation don’t truly cut one person off from another, especially when there are kids involved. You will still have to cooperate with the person you are divorced or separated from. If you want to minimize the potential for toxicity then along with your ex for the benefit of the kids involved. That means communicating well, co-parenting effectively, and stopping your expression of negativity regarding the other person. When these practices are not in place, kids are the ones who suffer the most.

Middleman: Do not, I repeat, do not make your kids the middleman between you and your former spouse or partner. There is nothing more damaging for a child than having to be the mediator between their divorced or separated parents. Be adults and co-parent effectively to create the best possible situation for your kids. Don't put them in the middle.

Everyone will have to be flexible and open to change since a new family and a new sense of normal is being created. Creating a successful blended family can seem arduous, and, at times impossible, yet if everyone is committed to practicing these eight suggestions, even the most imperfect, flawed people can create something beautiful and life-giving.