When it comes to blended families, coupleness does not necessarily equal familyness.
Right now, you’re a couple. The focus of your romantic love, and likely most of your dating, has been on falling in love and building a vision for your life together. But becoming a blended family involves so much more than just the two of you. You must learn to be a family.
Unless you met as strangers on the TV show Married at First Sight, you’ve probably spent hundreds, if not thousands, of hours investing in your coupleness. And if you had a few dating growing pains, keep in mind there was only two of you. You now endeavor to merge the lives of multiple children, sometimes from multiple homes, with perhaps a couple dozen extended family members for the rest of your lives.
Let’s just do the math, shall we?
Biological families are often comprised of two parents and four grandparents. That means there are six primary parent figures directly responsible for childrearing and nurturing children through their lives—all of whom have a direct biological tie to a child who very much wants them in their world. Blended families often have between three and seven parents and stepparents across three or more households, plus eight or more sets of grandparents, totaling nine to 21 parent figures.
Developing trust and affection
Becoming family to one another—which is fundamentally what every blended family is hoping to accomplish—is an emotional process that requires active engagement by all parties. You can’t just wish stepchildren, for example, into accepting, respecting, or loving a stepparent. They must develop mutual trust and affection through actual interaction.
Children who feel included in decisions related to forming a blended family and can speak into the process find embracing the new family easier than children who aren’t, and there’s evidence of that. Researchers examining the importance of involving children in blended family educational courses concluded, “When it comes to strengthening couples in stepfamilies, the involvement of children is clearly implicated and should not be underestimated.”
Here’s why. The loss (actually, the series of losses) that children of every age experience leading up to a parent’s marriage steals a sense of control and influence over their own lives.
Anything you do to give them some voice in what’s about to happen—and how it happens—restores some of that and may shift them from being a victim of their circumstances to a contributor to what is being built. And being a contributor makes it more likely they’ll follow through with their part of the plan because the message they receive from being included is that they are valued and important.
Preparing to Blended offers Growing Activities in each chapter that are designed to move step-relationships forward—allowing coupleness to grow toward familyness. If you have invested hundreds or thousands of hours in building your coupleness, don’t you think you need to be just as intentional with children to co-create your familyness? Get started today.
Adapted from Preparing to Blend: The Couple’s Guide to Becoming a Smart Stepfamily (2021) by Ron L. Deal, Bethany House Publishers, a division of Baker Publishing Group. Used with permission. All rights to this material are reserved.