There is a honeymoon for blended family couples, it just comes at the end of the journey, not at the beginning.
Falling in love produces a hope for the future. Couples with children from previous relationships who fall in love and plan a wedding also hope for a blended family filled with love and honor. They wish for a honeymoon – and a “familymoon!” But if their hope is not realized in the manner desired, disillusionment sets in. And disillusionment without perspective can erode love.
Finding Realistic Expectations
Marriage and the stepfamily experience are complicated endeavors. It is vital that you understand something of the process of becoming a family so you don’t assume terrible things when you experience discouragement or disillusionment. One stepmother said, “I didn’t realize that a second marriage would cause me to give up the dream of a perfect or whole family. Everyone’s illusions change after marriage, but it’s particularly difficult when children and a former spouse are involved.” Much of the discouragement people experience in stepfamilies is normal and simply part of learning to be family for one another. Sometimes, misguided expectations of the “perfect or whole family” set you up for even greater disillusionment. It’s very important that your expectations are realistic. Adjusting them now can help you aim for the right target and encourage you to relax in your family and enjoy the journey.
- Stepfamilies cook in a crock-pot, not a blender. Blenders bring ingredients together in rapid fashion by forcing “relationship.” They take different ingredients and combine them into one fluid mixture. Try that with your family and you might find it backfiring on you. For example, requiring children to call a stepparent “mom” or “daddy” tries to force relationship between the two ingredients. This often creates resistance in children because their first loyalty is to the biological parent living in the other home.
Stepfamilies cook slowly. Like stew in a crock-pot, ingredients are given lots of time to begin sharing of themselves – at their own pace. They aren’t forced together (to make adults less anxious), but come together in their own way, in their own time. According to Patricia Papernow, the average stepfamily needs seven years to create a family identity, and some take longer. Becoming a Stepfamily (New York: Gardner Press, 1993).The different ingredients of your family will come together in time. Trust the process and don’t force a blend.
- Getting remarried and creating a stepfamily is stressful. In addition, many of the stressors aren’t evident until after the wedding. Dating is one thing, marriage and the complications of stepparenting are another. One study found that, during the first few years after marriage, couples in stepfamilies reported twice the level of stress than couples in first-marriages. E.M. Hetherington and J. Kelly, For Better of For Worse: Divorce Reconsidered (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2002).It just seems to come with the territory. What’s the point? Don’t assume the presence of stress is an indication of a poor decision. Unfortunately, it is to be expected. But it can be managed with determination and knowledge.
- Just because you love each other doesn’t mean the children will follow close behind. The reality is that while your relationship does set the tone for all the other relationships in your home, it doesn’t order them. In other words, without a healthy marriage, the stepfamily has little chance of succeeding, but even with a healthy couple relationship, the stepfamily as a whole can struggle. The attitudes and adjustments of children can be quite different from yours. Some children might naturally welcome the new family, others might gradually adapt to it and still others might resist it. If this happens, don’t panic. Instead, accept where each child is at a given moment in time and continue to build relationships over time – keep a crockpot mentality.
- There are many outside forces that can divide you. Former spouses do interfere, and the presence of children complicates your marriage. Stepparents, for example, should accept that at times a mate’s ex-spouse will have more influence over your family’s daily schedule than you do. Work hard to not let such dynamics work against your unity as a couple and family. Become expert communicators, and be sure to include one another in decisions whenever possible.
- The past sometimes impacts the present. Many individuals who go through a divorce recovery program are surprised to discover that a “dead and buried past” is easily resurrected. Fears and assumptions based on previous relationships can color how partners view new relationships. If left unchecked, this can easily subvert the new marriage. Work to manage your fears of further relational pain, accept your mate’s relationship history, and actively place confidence in your future together.
A Well-Cooked Meal
Stew left in a crock-pot for only 30 minutes will not taste good. But the same ingredients allowed to cook for six hours – softening and sharing themselves at their own pace – produces a well-cooked meal. Stepfamilies take time to cook well. Patience and persistence are key culinary attitudes. So, too, is remembering that there is a honeymoon for blended family couples, it just comes at the end of the journey, not at the beginning.