Three Things Parents Can Learn From Blended Families
by Tina Ann Forkner
From Dr. Phil, to reality television, to gossip around the water cooler, disputes between ex-spouses are a hot topic. In the news, we see celebrity exes fighting over their children, pointing fingers, and manipulating anyone who will listen. If we judged divorced people by all the gossip, we might be tempted to think they are all selfish individuals who don’t care about their children at all. Thank goodness this is not the reality for most of us who find ourselves divorced, and if we are blessed, in a blended family. While being in a blended family takes a ton of patience, dedication, and faith, not to mention a thick skin, there are a few things that other families can learn from stepparents.
At first glance, these sub-titles might seem like no-brainers to you, but many of these tips are taken for granted by non-step families without them even realizing it:
1) Family Time Reigns:
There is just something about getting your kids up on Christmas morning and dropping them off at someone else’s house that changes you. Suddenly what you might have taken for granted in your first marriage becomes priceless in your blended family. A girls night out? Or a night in with the kids? Let’s just say that sometimes my girlfriends miss me.
Perhaps you are not divorced and remarried, so you think you’re already spending enough time as a family, but are you? When I first met my husband, I was immediately impressed with how much time he spent with his boys when they were together. While other dads spent the weekends doing guy things with their friends, he was hanging out with his boys. He also jumped at every chance to spend time with them in between visitation. My thought at the time was, “He spends more time with his kids than the dads I know who aren’t even divorced.” Talk about an attractive quality to a single mom!
“The family should be a closely knit group. The home should be a self-contained shelter of security; a kind of school where life’s basic lessons are taught; and a kind of church where God is honored; a place where wholesome recreation and simple pleasures are enjoyed.”- Billy Graham
Now, there is nothing wrong with dad golfing with his pals or mom having a movie night out with the girls (We all need it sometimes!), but those things don’t happen very often for parents in blended families. We become a little more selfish with our family time. How can this apply to your family if you aren’t in a remarriage? Well, when we aren’t in a blended family, we might not even realize the time we give to others over our kids. The truth is, we can all afford to be more selfish with our family time. Just because you aren’t dropping your children off at another parent’s house on the weekend, don’t assume that your kids are getting enough. Set a goal to be more purposeful about scheduling time as a family. Say no to outside interests more often and yes to your spouse and kids.
2) Each Child Needs a Date With You:
Each child needs affirmation that they are still important in their parent’s eyes in comparison to their siblings. Children thrown together in a blended family, by no choice of their own, naturally feel resentment and jealousy at times. Stepparents tend to see this as normal rather than as bad behavior. In fact, we are on the lookout for it from the very beginning because the reasons are very tangible and easy to identify in a blended family. In a traditional family, it is sometimes easy to dismiss our children’s need for individual time as them acting out.
My friend has three daughters. We were chatting about them one day and she confided that they all three struggled with jealousy. She had no idea how to break them from this undesirable behavior. I suggested individual dates with each child. Later she told me it was really helping her girls and that she never would have thought of doing something like that. When I asked her why, she said that it would have seemed unfair to single out one girl over another. I admit that if given her situation, I probably would have thought the same thing, but since becoming a stepmom, I’ve learned the importance of individual time with each child.
Each day of our lives we make deposits in the memory banks of our children. – Chuck Swindoll
Sure, it takes a lot of time to dedicate an hour or so to each kid, but it can be as simple as taking one of them on a weekly errand and swinging through the drive-through for ice cream. The goal is to let each child know that no matter what is going on in the family, they are still a priority to their mom or dad. This is a great idea for all parents, not just stepparents. You don’t have to be divorced before you start putting in the extra time for each child. Do it now and watch the bond between you and your children grow.
3) They Need to See You Date Each Other:
This might seem to go against everything I said in the first two tips. If you are spending extra time with your family, as well as individual time with each child in your family, how in the world are you going to find time to go on a date with your spouse? Shouldn’t you be using that time for your kids? I know it seems impossible, but you don’t even have to go out every time. It’s more about letting them see how you love each other as a couple.
The importance of modeling love as a couple became apparent as we spent time with our children after remarriage. It was confusing at first because one day they might tell one of us to “go home,” leaving us to think they would never accept their blended family. Then out of the blue we would be watching a movie and one of the children would reach over and put our hands together.
”We do not develop habits of genuine love automatically. We learn by watching effective role models – most specifically by observing how our parents express love for each other day in and day out.” - Anonymous
They wanted to see us holding hands. They wanted to see those goodbye kisses. And after they got over the fact that they didn’t get to go out to eat with us (pizza delivery helped), they acted sort of proud that we were going out on a date. A friend in Christian ministry explained that the kids wanted to see us “date” because they longed for permanency.
The idea took me by surprise. I was more prepared for their jealousy than for their need to see my husband and I as a couple, but it makes sense now. Non-step couples can borrow the same wisdom. Believe me, your kids know – or will know – what divorce is. They’re going to have a friend with divorced parents or they’re going to read about it in a book. They’re going to have questions. They’re going to worry. Like our kids, your kids need to be affirmed, as well. What better way to give them a sense of permanency than by letting them see you “date”?
Advice that Comes from Experience
For the past eight years I’ve been living as a mom/stepmom and I can’t express the joy we’ve found, but I often find myself wondering if some of my non-step family friends know how good they have it. Do they really know how lucky they are to have their children around all the time? Do you? Just remember that it never hurts to pause and take a closer look.
Many blessings from my family to yours!
Find Information About Blended Families at http://www.smartstepfamilies.com/