"Some families are created in different ways but are still, in every way, a family." - Nia Vardalos
"The Peterson Bunch" is how I refer to our family. Like "The Brady Bunch," which aired back in 1969, except we are much more real and none of our problems are solved in thirty minutes. Our bunch consists of his (a stepson from his previous marriage plus a daughter), hers (a son from a previous relationship), and ours (two daughters we call our “bridge babies”). We are what is commonly known as a "stepfamily," but the term “blended family” has gained traction over the last decade and is the one I prefer. This is near and dear to my heart, not only because I have a blended family, but also because my husband, Chris, and I are both products of them.
In the beginning, I didn't know how hard it would be to merge our families together. I assumed it would all fall into place and things would flow and function like a traditional family would. Boy, was I highly mistaken. All of the children we brought with us had experienced a loss. In addition, our children needed time to adapt to the change. So many emotions that go along with that. We didn't really know what we were getting into in terms of what our children were having to deal with or how to really help them navigate through that. All families have challenges; however, blended families can be more complex depending on the dynamics of the family's structure.
“Family is not defined by our genes, it is built and maintained through grace and love.” -Amalia G.
What does it take to be a successful blended family? How do you navigate through the hard days? We don’t claim to have it all figured out and we are still a work in progress, but we lived out some lessons that our family, unfortunately, learned the hard way. Here are a few things I believed going in that I should have handled differently.
#1: Everyone will get along peacefully right away.
This was one I struggled with the most. I just assumed it would all be good. Why wouldn’t it? I mean, we all got along great during the dating phase of our relationship. However, when we began to cohabitate and move into the marriage phase, I tried to throw everyone in a blender. This was not the best approach. Instead, I should have let our family cook slowly in a crockpot. This is the analogy used by Ron Deal, the bestselling author of The Smart Stepfamily.
Tip: It takes an average of five to seven years for a blended family to bond and relationships to stabilize. And lots and lots of patience. Expect civility in the beginning. All members should treat each other with respect and decency.
#2: Love will occur instantly.
In those first several months, all I felt was frustration and discouragement, because I expected love to happen instantly. I loved everything about my son, so my husband would too. How could he not? They had spent time together, played games, watched movies, etc. I had done the same with his children. I didn't think through that the last adult to live with them no longer was there full time. Or that now they were going to have to share their space, attention, and time with people they were, honestly, only on a friendship level with. It happens quickly in movies, right?! I quickly learned that it happens much more gradually in real life.
Tip: Establishing relationships take time. Going into it with minimal and more realistic expectations will help make the adjustment easier for everyone involved.
#3: We could figure it out on our own.
We didn't seek help from other blended families who could walk with us, nor did we seek professional help until much later. Many wait to seek help thinking no one else is dealing with the same issues. Like us, too many feel ashamed or prideful to seek help. Don't look at it as a sign of weakness or as a failure; instead, look at it as an investment in your family for the betterment of all involved.
Tip: Don't wait until things get bad to seek professional help or find a community of other blended families. Seek counseling early on so that the obstacles will be addressed before they get really entrenched. We recently started a blended families group on Facebook where we hope to build community in our city, feel free to join us: Blended Families of Memphis.
Successful blended families take time, effort, hard work, loads of grace, and tons of love. We chose to LOVE from the beginning. We could not have gotten this far without putting our faith and trust in God. We seek Him in all things and find grace for each other and strength for this tough but amazing journey.