Tips for a Blended Family and Step-Parents

“Blended” sounds like such a nice term.  Some days it feels much more like a pulverizer.

I was 24 years old when I became a step mother for the first time.  I married a man with two young sons and oh was I ever so madly in love with those two boys!  I was enamored with the idea of being their mom. I completely pushed the title of step-mom out of my vocabulary. I whole heartedly embraced the role of mother.

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You’d think that would be a noble way to view your children you’re raising…loving them as your own, but trust me…it comes with many potential heartbreaks. Would I change how I loved them? Nope! It’s just a risk you take…

I didn’t read a book on how to have a blended family.  Back then there were no blogs giving me direction on being a good step-mom.  Wisdom in hindsight is pretty valuable and has helped me now that I’m in a new round of parenting. I raised two step sons. Gave birth to one daughter. Divorced…then remarried a man with two grown sons. I’m currently raising my husband’s 10 year old granddaughter that we adopted when she was 3 months old and her 2 year old little brother. I’ve been on both sides of the blended family fence. I’m certainly not the expert…. I wish someone would have told me these things:

1.  Loneliness,  rejection, and broken hearts will happen.

I think my biggest problem in my first go around at being a step mom, was that my identity was tightly wrapped around my role as a mother.  I didn’t really have anything else.  All my “eggs were in one basket” so to speak.  When the boys would leave for their weekend visitations, I was lost.  I was so poured into their lives that there was nothing left when they were gone.  I’m sort of thinking this is kind of typical for many moms…and when the empty nest season hits, they are devastated.  (If you are an empty nester, read my sweet friend’s blog here:  TablerPartyofTwo.com)  After my first three years of struggling over empty weekends or empty holidays without the boys, I gave birth to my daughter Holly.  Having a baby eased up those loneliness feelings a bit.  But had I not had a baby to distract me then what?  I believe that my over-the-top devotion put a ton of pressure on the boys.  It produced feelings of guilt and anxiety that really could have been avoided if I would haven’t been so co-dependent.  Now, when my little one is gone visiting his birth mother, I enjoy my little break and try to focus on making myself a better mom.  IMG_2911

Rejection is never easy.  Transitioning from one parent to another is difficult for children, especially if there’s pressure from the other side.  When my 10 year old comes back from visiting her grandmother, where there’s no pressure, she comes back accidentally calling me Nanny instead of Mommy.  She then giggles and says oops.  I do the same thing…I end up calling Holly by Maddie’s name and vice versa.  It’s not a big deal.  So when your step child comes back and accidentally calls you by a name they’ve been using all weekend, don’t make a federal case over it.  It’s really not a big deal.  Now, one of the issues I face every week is when my 2 year old comes back from a visit with his mom.  I’m confident that she puts pressure on his during the visit, telling him I’m not his mom.  He tends to struggle in the transition and doesn’t want to run into my arms immediately.  It’s okay.  I just act like nothing has changed, continue to treat him like I always do, and he warms up in very little time and bounces back into the same cuddly little boy that left my arms 2 days prior.

Broken hearts….well that’s never easy.  When I became divorced, my ex-husband played it dirty (in my opinion, not his) by spewing his venom about me to his college age sons.  The results….they refused to have me be a part of their family.   I would have thought that after being the mother that poured love into these boys, the one who was there for every football game, the one who paced the floor with them at night when they were sick, the one who made sure they went to college…I would have thought nothing would break that bond.  But the bond was sabotaged and there was nothing I could really do about it. Yes it broke my heart.  Does it ever heal?  I thought it did…but last night I was presented with the possibility of my step son moving out and taking his 2 year old son with him.  How did that make me feel?  I cried all night long.  As my husband held me, I poured out my hurt over losing my first two sons…and then poured out how I feel like a part of me is being ripped from me.  How do we move on?  We just do.  We just look to God and say….I’m following you….and you’re in control.

2. Get rid of the expectations that you are a normal family.

I think whatever you grow up with, that scenario defines what you believe to be normal.  I had a mom and dad and one brother.  Except for the fact that I’m adopted, we seemed like the typical american family.  I didn’t even know anyone divorced until I got into college.  When I became a mother, I had this defined picture of what my family would look like.  What I didn’t picture was a mish-mash of children with different mothers and different fathers, all under my wings, coming in and out of my life.  The disillusionment I felt years ago as I sat in front of a Christmas tree alone on Christmas Eve, while my kids were at their mother’s house and my husband was out hunting, was down right depressing.  Instead of feeling sorry for myself, I should have been rejoicing that my kids were having a wonderful time.  Bottom line…when my eyes are on myself (pity-party) I’m miserable.  When I focus on my kids and their needs and desires, I’m not so miserable…  Also, I had no idea that 20 years later my house would be filled to capacity with little and big ones!  God knows the desires of your heart.  You may be at a low point now, but when God’s in the driver’s seat of your life…you know that things will turn out better than you imagine.

2.  Learn to let go.

Every time my boys would leave the house for their weekend visitation, I would go nuts with worry.  What mental poison would they be feeding them.  I used to freak out when I’d learn they were being allowed to watch rated R movies.  I’d become angry when I’d see the huge bag of sugar laden treats they trudge through the door with.  20 years later I’m presented with the same scenario.  My 2 year old grandson (who already calls me Mommy) faces all the same risks.  But I have no control.  And sitting at home worrying over it doesn’t make him any more safe.  My only tool is prayer.  And trust me, it’s much more effective.  Prayer helps me to not worry and fret.

3.  Stop fearing their choice.

I used to be overly consumed with the fear that my kids would somehow decide to leave and choose to live with the other parent.  That kind of pressure can really mess you up.  Instead of focusing on the potential loss, work on being the best parent, the best spouse, the best Christian you can be.

4.  Create a place where everyone belongs and feels welcome.

I think this is the KEY to being a successful step parent.  We all have the need to feel loved, to feel like they belong, to feel needed.  Myself included.

5. Everyone has baggage. Learn to label the baggage.

Divorce causes damage not only to spouses, but to kids as well. Everyone is coming into the new family with baggage. Look for it.  Identify what it is.  Many times you can’t fix the baggage.  But if you know what the baggage is, you can navigate a little better to avoid triggering old feelings of resentment.  I had no idea that my daughter would have baggage from my marriage to her father.  I worked very hard to shield her.  I worked hard to over compensate for the missing love she needed from her father.  But despite all that, she came with me into a new family with a ton of baggage.  Seeing it and acknowledging helped.  

6. Time is your friend. Be patient.

Get rid of the idea that a happy family can happen over night.  Just because you have a great marriage and you’re super happy, doesn’t mean your children will instantly become happy as well.  Younger children are much easier to adjust.  Middle School and High School…not as easy. Be patient and let time show them that this family won’t fail like the last one.  You can’t force them to be instantly comfortable.  But be persistent in your love and your patience.  And the longer you are consistent, the easier it will be to blend instead of pulverize.

7.  Build it and they will come.

This one phrase has led to my success as a parent:

“The absence of relationship breeds rebellion.”

Make building a relationship with your children a first priority.  When your relationship grows into something strong, the blending becomes something beautiful!

Books that’s helped me:


Teaching Your Young Child to Withstand Peer Pressure

Peer PressureWho would think an 8 year old little girl would have peer pressure. But it’s there.  And it’s been there for awhile in my neighborhood.

At first my focus was on helping my daughter to learn how to share.  When we moved into our current house almost four years ago, my daughter was 4 and there were seven other girls in the cul-de-sac who ranged in age older or younger by one year.  I thought teaching a 4-year-old to share would be the toughest challenge, but really the challenge started out on how to deal with so many different personalities.  I’ve been blessed with a little girl who is naturally sweet, kind, and generous.  Okay, maybe I had something to do with a little of that, but she really has grown into a wonderfully even tempered girl.  But being so congenial could lead her into other troubles, like following what the crowd does, just to get along.

My first inclination was to try and find every possible scenario and discuss what “our” reaction would be.  After the first two scenarios, I was ready to pull my hair out.  There was no way I’d be able to cover everything in a short period of time, preparing my precious Maddie to walk out the door.  Of course the next option to wait for her to come to me with issues was out of the question as well.

Kids have so many rules to try and remember and my Maddie has short term memory issues (her birth mother used meth while pregnant.)  I decided that my best solution was the following:

  1. Set an example of behavior in the home.  This has given Maddie a good base for knowing what is acceptable behavior.  It’s sort of like how they train counterfeit inspectors.  They give the inspectors a real currency bill that they memorize from top to bottom.  Eventually when they come across a phony bill, they recognize that it’s not like the original.  Maddie is growing up with two parents and a sister who chase after a lifestyle pleasing to God.  When something in her life pops up that doesn’t fit with that, it becomes blatantly obvious that it’s not acceptable.
  2. Build a close relationship.  This closeness has cultivated a response in Maddie that inspires her want to make Mom and Dad happy.  She knows us well enough now, because we spend so much time talking and playing together, that she has it figured out who we are and what is important to us.  And she strives to fit into those guidelines.  I walked away from a parenting seminar years ago with a phrase that has stuck with me:  The absence of relationship breeds rebellion.
  3. Demonstrate that our actions & activities are pleasing to God.  Maddie participates and witnesses our family intentionally picking out television shows and movies that are pleasing to God.  We demonstrate that we choose not to watch R-rated shows, because we don’t like what it does to our hearts and minds.  We set standards for our guests in our home that we don’t tolerate profanity.  Don’t let it fool you that kids aren’t aware of what the adults are doing in the home.  We have a great number of guests in our house weekly, and she’s heard her father or myself to ask guests to guard their language.  I heard Maddie tell one of her friends, “I’m not allowed to watch scary movies.”  It’s true, she’s not allowed, but I’ve never said “you’re not allowed” or she’s never asked to watch one.  She has learned the importance of filling our minds with positive and happy shows, and scary doesn’t fit into that.

Our biggest challenge of late was the neighborhood craze for monster high dolls.  While they may be “fairly” harmless for the girls to play with, since they play with them exactly like they do the Barbies, it was a great tool to pick so we could practice saying no.  Maddie really wanted a monster high doll.  Matter of fact, she was the only girl in the neighborhood who didn’t have one.  I explained that dolls that are vampires or zombies (dead) were not pleasing to God and I was not buying any.  I told her why I didn’t like them.  I didn’t tell her she couldn’t play with her friend’s dolls at their house, but she’s taken it on herself to say she is not allowed to play with them.  One of the girls asked her why not…  Maddie:  They are not pleasing to God.  Friend:  What’s pleasing mean?  Maddie:  Making God happy.  If Maddie can get through this pressure, I feel pretty certain the rest will be a breeze.

THE TEST:  One of the neighborhood girls accidentally discovered pornographic movies on the internet while searching for a Disney show.  She then got another girl to come watch.  This went on for a week of repeatedly watching the show.  Finally they invited the rest of the girls to watch.  Out of six of the girls, Maddie was one of two that declined to go watch.

We can’t be with our little girls every minute of every day.  Even when they are in a trusted home, dangers abound.  Teaching your children to make the right choices is critical!

So maybe the exercise of Monster High Prohibition has been useful already!