“Oh My God, What was I thinking?!”...and other things that might cross your mind if you’re part of a blended family.

Let’s face it, managing a relationship, let alone a family with children is a challenge in this day and age. There are many reasons for this, including the fast-paced lifestyles we lead where decisions are made quickly and consequences are an afterthought. More than ever, relationships around us are dissolving. It is a common reality. Close to 40% of marriages end in divorce in Canada (50% in the US). Of these divorces, 75% remarry or re-couple. 66% of these unions break up when children are involved. Why is that?

It’s complex, but let’s start with the basics.

A blended family is a union where one or both partners bring children into the situation and may have additional children together. This can also be called a “step family”.

There are numerous types of blended family scenarios, but for the sake of this article and because it has been my experience, we’ll stick to two partners coming together each with children.

My blended family story began two years ago. At that time, my partner and I were in the pre-blended family stage. This is where the potential of blending is thought out and planned. This stage is not to be neglected as the impacts of your decision to enter into this lifelong union will stay with you forever. The pre-blending stage lasted one year until we decided to move ourselves and each of our two children into one house ―and then there were six.

Despite the fact that we are both social workers, have a good social and family network, good physical health, and children who are in good physical health, are financially comfortable, and have children who all get along, etc. the process of blending was not, I mean is not, an easy one. As a matter of fact, it is the biggest endeavor I have ever embarked upon.

Notice how I said the process in the present tense? That’s because the adaptation process is still going on. Adapting to a blended family takes time. When entering a blended family, many people have preconceived ideas of what the family is going to look like. We all search for love to accompany us through this journey called life. When things get complicated in your blended family, it’s not because love is not there, but usually it’s the blended family dynamics that interfere. Expecting that there is going to be an instant bond with your step-children and vice-versa is not realistic for instance, or hoping that your couple won’t be faced with fundamental issues, such as finances and values related to child-rearing is unrealistic as well. These are dynamics that make a complex situation even more complex.

If you feel like you’re ready to call it quits, don’t be afraid to give it some time. Most of those who have experienced a blended family have felt and lived through those same things: frustration, chaos, conflict, wanting to give up. Be patient. Time and commitment are needed by everyone in the family if the union is to succeed. Some specialists say it can take seven years for the family to ‘gel’. For the time being, limit your expectations. Trust that in time, all of the energy you’ve put in will reward you in the end.

Remember that the consequences of a break-up on children, especially if it’s the second time around, are significant. They experience loss as the family breaks down once again, potentially having a long-term impact on their ability to trust and succeed.

If things are tough and you feel overwhelmed, even if you’re in the pre-blended family stage, seek support from your loved-ones, social network, or from a professional.

In the meantime, here are a few tips for keeping or creating harmony in your blended family:

-Acknowledge the challenge.
You probably had some idea that this wasn’t always going to be easy…and that’s ok.
Sit down with your partner and discuss those big topics such as money and child rearing.

-Have your discussions outside of crisis.
If most of your discussions are taking place within the context of an argument, you need to stop. Agree to make time to talk calmly and rationally. This is important for you, but more important for your children. When you argue in front of children, you change who they are. For you, the fight is over when it's over. For your children, it doesn't end. They don't see you make up. They don't participate in the healing. They go to bed at night thinking that their parents are fighting because of them.

-Stop complaining and be specific.
You need to stop complaining and start asking for what you specifically need from your partner. Tell him or her exactly what he/she needs to do in order to make you and your kids feel accepted and special. In turn, you need to ask your partner what is needed from you.

-Mutually agree on punishment.
Don't assume that your style of disciplining will be appropriate for your stepchildren. It's important that you talk to your spouse about the rules and punishment that existed before you joined the family.

-Create a personal relationship.
Make a commitment to developing a relationship with your stepchild that has nothing to do with your spouse. Set aside some special time in which you and the child can interact alone. Make no mistake about it; you are a pivotal person in that child's life.

Here are resources near you that can help:

Regroupement des familles monoparentales et recomposées de Laval
www.rfmrl.org/fr/index.php (a couple of people available for individual counseling in English)