Blended families are quickly becoming the new norm in our society. In fact, currently, 40% of all Canadian families are blended families, and that percentage is only counting those who are legally married. There are also many “unofficial” blended families. While divorce statistics have risen steadily over the last few decades, the majority of divorced parents marry again. Blended families are also commonly created by previously unmarried parents, as well as those who have lost a spouse. It is estimated that step-families are created in approximately one third of all Canadian marriages.
While the circumstances that lead to a blended family life may differ, some things are certain. Above all, it is paramount to commit oneself to a supportive or parental role to the children of their romantic partner. This may seem strange, but it is no secret that having a stepfamily creates penetrating complexities that simply do not exist in intact families. For example, some children will require guidance with regards to the title of their stepparent. From the position of the child, they may think, “Who is this person to me? Do I think of them as a parent? How do I behave around them?” A word of reference tacks on these sorts of questions, building an added density within the family unit. However, you do not have to let these intricacies hinder your experience. Step parents are not around to replace a biological parent but rather to augment a child’s life experience.
Within our blended family dynamic, I have found keeping it simple with love and empathy is a good way to start. You see, if you have an agenda, like a “my way or the highway” approach, you are setting yourself up for failure. Rules and respect are important, but at what cost? Understand that blending a family requires time and is a long-term investment. The laughter, closeness, connection and memories of a big happy family comes from time. It takes time to make those connections and memories, time to develop the closeness and have things to laugh about. But you also can not force those things to happen. Set aside the expectation that you will be one big happy family right away… instead let it happen organically. It requires plenty of emotional maturity, chiefly amongst the parents involved. While there is a multitude of varying nuances, patience goes a long way.
A blended family cannot function without some flexibility and level of sacrifice from just about everybody. You did not blend your family to fail, but rather to succeed. Success is relative and must be measured from within the walls of your home. It is unhealthy to be comparing your blended family to the Jones’ down the street. Instead, chuckle at their sneers and glares, for they do not see the goodness within each of you…they simply see what they want.
Most importantly, you cannot allow yourself to get imbibed into the day-to-day challenges. There will be disparities, difference of opinions, and confusion of “what is going on here?!” But, for each of those days, there are days full of excitement and marvel! At family gatherings, I promise you… there will a splendor to behold. It is one thing to claim love defeats all. However, to gaze upon your blended family, from all sorts of upbringings, and to witness them smiling and laughing amongst each other. These are the sorts of the moments, which I truly believe showcases our human capacity to flow forgiveness and compassion in our cup of life, poignant ingredients to create abundance.
This is not to say that blended families do not struggle! We have our challenges just like everyone else, but I welcome those challenges to strengthen what we have. In a blended family structure, I learned how important it is to work together as a team. At times, it may seem as if you are worlds apart from one another… but seek to embrace difference. The history is part of our family, we do not forget it; we hold onto the scars and look at them lovingly. For some, this may seem odd, which is perfectly fine. In our case, it has built our character, as we chose to value bonds over indifference. In doing so, it required each of us to examine how one thinks, approaches trials and relationships. Which is to say, we sought to let go of resentment and the past, in favour of the present.
You must build a culture of what is right, rude, or wrong in your family structure. It is not about what is happening in everyone else’s household. Enjoy the little things. Celebrate each victory, whether big or small. Cheer your heart out for each other. Those of us in blended families, have the ability to show love in motion more than we think we do. Bottom line…for those we cherish, there is nothing we cannot accomplish. Blend families have their hiccups but when they work, it is a beautiful thing!