Things to consider when ‘birthing’ a blended family


Dear Adele,

I am a divorcee with two children ages 6 and 9, who finally allowed herself the freedom to date. I have recently met a super guy with two teenagers, who is also divorced. We have started to talk seriously about a future together with our four kids. We would be grateful for guidance on how to create a blended family. Can you help?

‘Brady Bunch’ Wannabe Mom


Dear ‘Brady Bunch’ Wannabe Mom,

How wonderful that you have met a quality man with whom you might find long term happiness! You are probably contemplating a dreamy union, with all four kids living together, happily ever after, like the famous television blended family of the seventies, ‘The Brady Bunch.’

While dreams and hopes of the big happy blended family are seductive, may I bring you down to reality a bit, so you might actually have a shot at accomplishing your goal? There is a lot to consider.

Fiirst and foremost hold the horses! Buy a ticket on the slow boat to China! Let these plans run slow like molasses in January!

You might not be aware that while 40 per cent of first marriages fail, 60 per cent of second marriages fail. That number swells to 70 per cent if children are involved. In fact step children often play a major part in the demise of those marriages, causing friction and presenting serious challenges.

Wise young couples planning a new baby and wanting to birth a child safely and successfully, learn about the challenges a new baby will bring before conception. This helps them anticipate problems and be better prepared for the lifelong commitment. They might also take a prenatal course, consult their health care professional, read books and articles about babies and giving birth to them. Most couples will talk to others who are new moms and dads, too. Smart couples ensure they are ready, willing and able to parent before conceiving their progeny.

Birthing a ‘Brady Bunch’ with the optimum chance of success has similarities to birthing a baby.

Wise couples planning to merge their families try to learn about the challenges a blended family might present before jumping in, so they will know what to expect. Then they can proactively avoid or delay some issues, and get well prepared to cope with others when they surface.

Gabrielle Applebury in ‘Blended Family Problems’ and Holly Robinson in ‘A Blended Family United: Tips for Overcoming Issues Together’ have identified the following common potential problems which you might encounter:

  • Step children do not always like each other.
  • Step parents may not bond to their partner’s children.
  • Step children may not accept a new parent figure.
  • Step children may be jealous of their new step siblings.
  • Step children may rebel against a new step parent.
  • Step children may resent a new step parent.
  • Step children may perceive favouritism by a new step parent.
  • Step children can put a wedge between the new spouses.
  • The new spouses may have different parenting styles.
  • There are more children in the family, resulting in less time for each child.
  • Scheduling complications arise because of larger numbers of persons.
  • Sibling rivalry may occur.
  • Money problems are common.
  • Territorial issues can transpire in a shared residence.
  • Ex-spouses can create issues and undermine the new blended family.
  • Children can experience identity issues.

Once your eyes are wide open to the potential problems you might face in a merged family, there are strategies you can follow to optimize chances of success before birthing your ‘Brady Bunch’. Knowledge, preparation and taking a slow, measured, step by step approach seem to be major factors.

First, be sure you have given yourself lots of time to come to terms with the end of your first relationship. Take time to discover who you are and how the failure of that relationship has affected you. Make sure you are stable, together and 100 per cent ready to become involved with another person.

Secondly, it is best if you and your children’s father have resolved the legal, and financial issues between you and have established a respectful, cooperative parenting relationship. Open, clear, communication between you and your ex-spouse is most helpful.

Before you tell the children about your new partner-to-be, contact your ex-spouse and let him know that you are dating. Tell him you plan to introduce your new love interest to the children sometime fairly soon at a relaxed family type outing. A trip to the beach, a picnic in a park or a hike ending in an ice cream stop are suggested ideas.

You do this, because you do not want the children informing the ex-spouse. That would set things up for the ex-spouse to question the children about the outing or the guy. This could lead to miscommunication or negative feelings.

Being respectful of your ex-spouse’s feelings is likely to lead to support and fewer conflicts going forward. Remember that bringing your ex- spouse along on the expedition of building your ‘Brady Bunch,’ is kind and considerate and sets the stage for cooperation between all the adults in the pending game.

Conflict is common between ex-partners who share children. It is wise to do everything possible to avoid conflict producing actions and communications, and consistently focus your ex-spouse and yourself on what is best for the children you both love and are jointly raising. No matter the reason for the failure of the first marriage, reframing every contentious issue in this context is the strongest position to support the children. You should try to get this mindset going in both parties’ families so the problems common in blended families can be reduced as much as possible. Hopefully the new relationship will then have the bast possible shot to flourish with all the adults focussed on the children and their needs, not those of the adults.

Thirdly, arrange a casual opportunity for the children to meet your new friend. Use his first name and do something fun and relaxed like a hike, a beach day, or a barbecue at a park. Keep expectations low and enjoy the time with the kids. Repeat this kind of outing several times over a few months until the kids are comfortable with your friend and he is comfortable with them. Use the same idea to get to know his children over plenty of time.

Fourthly, after your children have gotten to know your new guy for several months, and you have gotten to meet his teenagers in the same manner, you can try introducing all the children. Try a casual, relaxed, fun outing with lots of space and freedom to interact or not. Go in your own cars and bring your own food and equipment. Keep the activity time limited and go home to your own residences. Try another outing in a few weeks. Slowly but surely the kids will get to know each other and their relationship can develop, as can yours with your guy’s teenagers.

Try to remember that quality relationships cannot be bought. They are built over time, on respect, cooperation, and patience. Inch by inch, and all in good time, are excellent guidelines in birthing your blended family. You will want to work hard on developing and forming those quality relationships before moving everyone into a new residence with all the challenges that will entail.

Family counsellors or psychologists can be helpful to you in anticipating or solving blended family issues. Much has been written about the special dynamics of the blended family which I encourage you to check out, as well. You might find a support group or courses for blended families useful, both in preparing for the merge and in dealing with the issues you might encounter after the birthing of your ‘Brady Bunch.’

Judy Osborne, Director of the Step Family Association in Brookline, Massachusetts says it takes 2-5 years for a step family to establish itself. She pulls no punches in stating that the beginning ‘is a bumpy ride.’

May your ride ‘Brady Bunch’ Wannabe Mom, develop positively in an atmosphere of cooperative parenting, understanding and love for all the kids. Slow and steady seems to win the race in establishing any blended family and turning it into a happy ‘Brady Bunch’. I wish you the best!

Sincerely, Adele

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