Updated: May 13, 2021
I thought I would look up the divorce rate for America in 2020 to begin this week’s blog post about blended families. Turns out there is quite a bit of disagreement about how to get that figure and the percentage ranges anywhere from 39% or 60% for a first marriage and a higher percentage of divorce for marriages after that, especially if children are involved. Why does it not surprise me that it is difficult to decipher the statistics about blended families? Haha, I know! Because blended families are complicated! Given the large amount of people who are probably going to end up in one someday (oh, I know, it won’t be you!), it would still behoove ALL of you to pay attention and learn some fundamentals of living in a blended family.
The first fundamental, don’t approach it like you are all one happy family. I know it sounds positive and like it is something to strive for, but boundaries get blurred easily when you are trying to take care of the entire family, and not just your own. Given that the couple of origin divorced because they could not get on the same page, why would you think that you can come in and make everybody happy?
Ok, well I admit this is exactly what I did when I first married my husband. I couldn’t keep it up though. As a people pleaser at the time, I could not possibly keep everybody happy and at times, found myself more worried about making his ex-wife happy, than him! This was a red flag that my good intentions were not that good, and I needed to re-evaluate my approach. I now believe firmly that it is important for the kids (no matter how old they are) that blended families can get together for special events without drama and even have fun, but that’s about it. Otherwise, two different families, two different philosophies, two different approaches to life is AOK. In fact, it is better than ok! It is actually pretty cool that the girls get to be exposed to different values and ways of being so they can determine who they want to be in their own families moving forward.
Second fundamental, you do not have to love your stepchildren like your own. First of all, I don’t even have my own children so how do I know what it is like to love them like that. I can imagine it is a beautiful and amazing connection, but I know it is not all the time. How do I know that? I see many estranged relationships with birth mothers and their children, so I know the whole biological thing is just a circumstance. The truth is it is our thoughts about other humans that create our feelings every time. Now if I was a mom who had my own children, of course it is not going to be exactly the same as loving somebody else’s. I am not saying you cannot love them deeply and really care about them, because you can if you align your thoughts accordingly. My point here is that you get to have whatever kind of relationship you want with your kids and you do not have to live up to any standards or strive for perfection. Whew, that’s a relief, right? You officially get to feel however you want and sometimes, you might not create a close bond with the stepchildren and that is okay. Newsflash! That happens with birth parents too.
Third fundamental, it would benefit the whole family if birth mom and stepmom can acknowledge the other one, appreciate what they both bring to the blended family, respect one another, and stay in their own lanes. Women rule and when they work together, they are unstoppable! Think how much better it would be if birth mom was not threatened by stepmom, and stepmom did not feel inferior because she is late to the party and not related by blood. Imagine how beneficial it would be for stepchildren to witness this kind of collaboration and learn that you don’t necessarily have to be best buddies to work together. A mutual respect and appreciation for one another goes a long way and gives the children permission to love everybody in the family.
Fourth fundamental, children need both of their parents and would benefit from a good relationship with both stepparents as well. There is more than enough love to go around for everybody so no need to be controlling or stingy about who the kids spend their time with and who they love the most. It is not a competition; it is called family time. As small children, there is great value to a standard routine and schedule for Mom’s house vs Dad. As adults, however, let the kids go where they want and be with who they want to be with guilt free. Both parents have a huge impact on a child’s upbringing and how they relate to their parents often translates to how they relate when they begin to date and establish romantic relationships of their own. If the adult child prefers one home to the other, don’t make it a big deal or a problem. Even in families who do not experience a divorce, kids are usually drawn to one parent over the other and that is okay.
Fifth fundamental, and this one is for the stepmoms, don’t believe the brain BS that is all over the media about stepmoms. You get to decide who you want to be in your family and what role you want to take on. Ultimately, it is your choice because as I said before, it is not your fault that the family ended up in divorced and it certainly is not your responsibility to fix everything. I spent years trying to figure out how to be a stepmom the right way and was so relieved and grateful to find out there is no wrong or right way. There is just the way you decide to be. For me, that means I show up in a kind and loving way, which means honest and authentic. I am here to love and support them when they need me and always have their best interest in my heart. I also take care of myself now, set clear boundaries and reinforce them to ensure I promote positive emotional and mental health for me and the entire family. I also value myself just as much as everyone else in the family-yay!!! That took some time and work and was well worth the effort.
Sixth fundamental, you get to determine your relationships with everybody in your entire family. I hear this quite a bit as somebody who has done some coaching with stepmoms, it does not matter how your family of origin perceives your relationship with your stepchildren. It does not matter if they think you should spend more time with them or that you should bring your stepchildren around family functions. All that matters is what works for you. My parents who have both passed away already, spent very little time with my family. It just worked out that way because I lived in Chicago and they were in Ohio. I went home frequently to see my parents and the girls stayed in Chicago with Bob. That is just the way it worked out and I would have caused myself a great deal of suffering if I judged myself or my family because they did not come to my hometown with me. Blended families are different, and it can be a little awkward at times. We just need to understand that. No compare and despair here, it is just a waste of time and only leads to unnecessary unhappiness. Also, don’t even get me started on the whole grandparents treating all the children in the family the same. Set clear boundaries regarding what is acceptable and stick up for yourself and your family when necessary. That’s it.
Lastly, the seventh fundamental, and this is for the stepmoms too because I am one, you are so much more than a stepmom. I say this especially to those of you who could not have children like me but were still responsible for helping to raise somebody else’s children. You are freaking amazing for taking on that role and you should be so proud of yourself for dealing with the challenges of trying to love and care about little humans that might not always have the maturity and awareness to appreciate you. When you realize you are so much more than a stepmom and that you are a human being with the same needs and desires as everybody else, and you really believe you deserve to be happy, everything changes. Once you cultivate a loving relationship with yourself, you can finally have that with other people in our family. That is when you stop thinking that it is the role and the circumstance of being a stepmom, that causes all of the challenges in your life. It was always the way you are thinking! When you truly understand that nobody has to change in the family (including the ex-wife) for you to fully love your life and accept it as is, then you have arrived! That is when you get to experience the freedom and liberation that comes with taking care of yourself and having your own back.
Now listen, I could go on and on with fundamentals, but I am going to stop here for the sake of time restraints. I shared these fundamentals with you today because I want you to know that there is no right or wrong way to experience a blended family. I wanted you to be aware of the need for boundaries and understanding that you do not have to be one big happy family. (good for you if you are the exception!) Life is 50/50 and that holds true whether you are in a blended family or not. You get to love who you want and the way you want to; it is all up to you. It is helpful for the whole family if there is mutual respect and appreciation for every family member. Lastly, stepmoms need to know they get to decide their role and that they are so much more than a stepmom. They have the same needs as everybody else in the family and are totally worthy and valuable humans whether they are a blood relation or not. Relationships in a family are all established by the way each person thinks about the other. With so many divorces and blended families it would serve all of us to have a better understanding of blended families in case we end up finding ourselves in one. It really is not that farfetched. Join me in the Brain BS Podcast to discuss this further!