Tag Archives: blended family

12 ways we keep our blended family marriage strong

My husband and I dated for a few years before we got married, living in separate households and reveling in the excitement of coming together every weekend. We’d both been married before, and were now living as divorced single parents. I longed for the time when we could finally blend our households and things could become much simpler.

Boy, was I in for a rude awakening. Things were bumpy when we finally did move in together, mostly because blending a family is hard work. But the other hard part was learning how to work together as a team in every decision when both of us were so used to being independent.

Marriage only made this worse.

Our first year of marriage was really rough. I loved being married to Shawn, but I also recall the many fights we had, the loneliness I felt as I clung to stubbornness, the continued struggle of being two different families in one house, and the daily realizations over how different we were in so many areas.

Things finally did settle down, and our family has learned how to come together in many ways. We still have differences, as many families do, but mostly, we’ve learned which battles are worth fighting and which ones aren’t. I won’t pretend we’re perfect — we’re not. But the place we are now is paradise compared to the darkness we experienced in the beginning.

The biggest reason, I believe, things are much better is because Shawn and I have come together as a solid team through all of this. Every year I’m amazed at how much more I love him than the year before, and how there’s still so much we get to learn about each other. He’s my biggest champion, and I’m his. It makes me excited to see where our marriage will be by year 10, 20, 50 and beyond.

The other day I was thinking about the things that makes our marriage so wonderful, and the following things came to mind:

1. We compliment each other often. When I look in the mirror and am disappointed by what I see, he’s right there behind me to let me know how sexy I look. Just this morning I was bummed out about the number on my scale. He didn’t know this when he asked me to stop what I was doing and take a turn for him. “Damn, I’m a lucky man,” he told me. I know we’re supposed to love ourselves and all, but it sure is helpful when the man I love reminds me every day that he finds me sexy. It goes both ways, too. I think my husband grows more handsome and sexy every day, and I tell him so. It goes beyond looks, too. He’s my biggest cheerleader to the things that mean most to me, helping me to see the positive when I’m stuck in the negative. I tell him how proud I am of him, from the big things to the small. We both try really hard to notice what the other person is doing, and acknowledge those things with words of affirmations.

2. We respect each other’s seasons. Let’s just get right to the point: sometimes I’m not in the mood to have sexy time, especially at the end of my cycle. There’s a particular week when there is nothing he can do to awaken the sleeping dragon. What I love about my husband is that he understands this and is completely respectful about it. However, it would be completely selfish of me to let this mood control our sex life. There has to be a give and take when it comes to sex. Sometimes I fight through my “don’t touch me” feelings for his benefit. And vice versa, when I’m in the zone and he’s not, he’ll make sure I’m taken care of. The benefit? More times than not we’re in the same space, and I firmly believe it’s because we understand the give and take, and respect each other’s moods.

3. We spice things up. Right now, our lives involve a very busy household, teenagers, hectic jobs, and we just moved his mother into our home. All of that is a combination for passionless nights as we collapse into bed so we can do it all again the next day…even with everything I mentioned in #2. Luckily, that’s the furthest thing from the truth. I won’t divulge our secrets here, but if things are feeling fairly routine between the sheets, perhaps it’s time to get a little creative. Is there something you’ve wanted to try, but haven’t because it feels a bit too naughty? Maybe it’s time you let down some of your guard. You might be surprised at what happens. 😉

4. We plan for uninterrupted time daily (even if it’s just 10 minutes). Our lives have only gotten busier since our earlier days. Two out of three of our blended kids are in college, plus I started college two years ago. We both have demanding jobs. Plus, we’re caretaking for his mother. Life is crazy busy. There are some days I only see him in the morning while I’m getting ready for work, and in the evening when we go to bed. Still, we make it a point to ask about the other person’s day, and then LISTEN, phones away, completely focused. This is one of my favorite things about our marriage, that we still have so much to share with each other every day, and this uninterrupted time becomes some of our best conversations.

5. We support each other as much as possible. Shawn is a gardener. I am not. But I love the outcome of his efforts when we have fresh tomatoes in the summer. Usually, he’s the one out there watering. But (when I remember) I’ll go out and water, too, simply so he doesn’t have to. I wanted a dog. Shawn did not. Guess what? We have a dog. And despite his repeated insistence that he never wanted a dog, he still takes the dog for walks regularly. We’re both writers, and we are each other’s first readers. We attend events that are important to the other person, even if they’re not our personal cup of tea. We only talk kindly about each other to others, never slamming the other person (how many times have you been uncomfortable around other couples who do the opposite?). We build each other up and cheer each other on. I can truly say Shawn is my best friend, and he says that about me, and it’s because we truly support each other.

6. We put ourselves in the other person’s shoes. One of the secrets to our happy marriage is our level of empathy. I’m not going to lie, we still have our fair share of fights. But these fights never last long. One of the reasons is because we have a high level of empathy for the other person, willing to see the situation from the other person’s point of view. This isn’t easy, admittedly. However, we both know each other’s true nature. When I’m mad at Shawn, I also know he’s not a bad person. I know his reasoning isn’t to be malicious, but because he has his own reasons for acting a certain way. I try to see what that reasoning is, and if there is something I should bend on. Shawn is the same way. Even more important, he knows how to say he’s sorry when he’s wrong, and has been a great model for me so that I can learn to do that, too. And man, is that hard!

7. We recognize each other’s strengths, and remind each other of them. I’m the worst when it comes to knowing what I’m good at. I’m really hard on myself. That’s why it means so much to me when Shawn stops everything and tells me all the things that are special about me. I need to hear this, because I forget. In the same way, I often tell Shawn what I admire about him: his confidence, his way with words, how he carries himself, how personable he is, how much people appreciate his wisdom.

8. We date each other. If I had my way, Shawn and I would go on a date at least once a week, if not more. However, we live in the real world, and that is rarely possible. We do make time for each other regularly, though. This could be a movies date, or time at a coffee shop, or even, and I’m not even joking, a Costco shopping trip. It’s mostly about the time together without anyone else so that we can talk and have fun together. It keeps our friendship alive in our marriage.

9. We are social together. There’s something so romantic about being with Shawn among a group of friends, from quiet dinners to group outings, laughing with friends and having him close to me as we experience the same thing. I always feel so proud of him when we’re out together, and we often come home feeling closer than ever before.

10. We’re social apart. We don’t have all the same friends or interests, and that’s completely okay. I love that Shawn has no issue whatsoever when I enjoy time with my girlfriends or some solitude time away from him and everyone else. Likewise, I don’t have a problem with him going to the ball game or the movies with his friends while I stay at home. We both enjoy a healthy amount of time away from each other and by ourselves, which makes our together time that much more special.

11. We work as a team. Earlier this year, Shawn’s mom moved in with us. This change in our household held all the promises of stress on our marriage, and yet, I’ve never felt closer to him. We have divided the duties, trying to avoid burnout. We are talking so much more about real feelings through this, being open and honest, even about the hard stuff. We give each other breaks. We build each other up. We do every single thing on this list. I can honestly say that his mother moving in has brought us so much closer, which, seriously, astounds me.

12. Our shared faith is at the center of our marriage. I recognize not every married couple is lucky enough to share the same faith. I feel fortunate that Shawn and I do. I’ve been in relationships where the faith is different, whether because someone didn’t have faith or we shared completely different faith altogether, and it was HARD. I won’t say it’s impossible, but it definitely takes work to be in a loving, committed marriage, and share vastly different ideas about God and what that means for humanity. So in that, I feel very fortunate that God is our partner in our marriage, that we both view God through loving eyes, we see our duty as to love all people, and we do all this together.

What works for you and your spouse in your marriage?

Tiny waterfalls

Vintage Wine Country Mom: DQ was only 9 in this picture at the waterfalls in Sugarloaf in 2008.

We were watching American Idol and Coldplay was on singing “Every teardrop is a waterfall”.  My 16-year old stepson, who is normally holed up in his room, has lately been making it a habit to hang out with us in the evening.  My 14-year old daughter was in the kitchen struggling with a science project for school where she had to create a rocket out of a soda bottle.

“Do you need any help?” my stepson asked her.

“No, I think I got it.  I’m just not sure what to do with the nose,” she said.  And as she explained what her idea was, he got up to help her anyways – this from two kids who could barely look at each other just a few months ago.

And as they worked together, a tiny, secret waterfall may have made a trickle in our living room.

Yin and Yang

We ended our day on the made bed, our bodies perfect Yin and Yang semi circles. We faced each other this way, an uneasy feeling in the pit of our stomachs as we unfurled the day in a heap between us, determined to tackle it and sweep it aside before it plagued our dreams and interrupted our sleep. For an hour and a half, Mr. W and I pulled and kneaded the situation at hand, tossing the dough of our mixed family dilemmas as we tasted bite size pieces of moving forward in some areas and reining it in with others.

The day had started out innocently enough. Mr. W and I planned a day to San Francisco, something we had talked about for ages as a fun event for us and the kids. After a family outing to church, I set forth and took down lunch orders for all 5 of us. Of course, that meant 5 completely contrasting sandwiches. But I didn’t worry about that as I boiled eggs for the egg salad, flipped the grilled cheese sandwich, and toasted bread several different ways for several different sandwiches. And as we ate, the time crept by slowly, picking up pace with each minute. And soon 2 hours had passed and we were still nowhere ready to leave. A little hustle and bustle that was reminiscent of herding cats, we were finally on our way.

Of course, we had three growing kids in the backseat – three growing kids who wanted their own leg room and weren’t concerned about their neighbors. I counted down the minutes until the first whine about space, and had reached 30 when it started.

“Move your leg!”

“No! You move yours!”

“I can’t! I’m all bunched up to the side! So move your (oof!) leg!”

“Ow! Mom! She kicked me!”

We crossed the bridge and finally reached Golden Gate Park with a bit of frazzled nerves, but still happy to be out of the house. At least Mr. W and I were….

“What are those for?” one of the kids asked us, peering into the trunk.

“It’s for scooting around the park,” Mr. W replied, starting to take a scooter and two skateboards out of the trunk. The idea had been that the kids would have fun riding circles around us, racing ahead of us so that we could walk hand in hand while enjoying the scenery.

“Uh uh, I don’t want it,” one of the kids said.

“I don’t want it either,” another said.

Our little fantasy of a happy family outing was slowly disintegrating as reality hit the fan and splattered us with little pieces of tween and teen “I don’t wanna’s”.

“Well, I’ll take it,” the Taz said, pulling his skateboard out of the trunk.

We left the parking garage and entered the fresh San Francisco air encased by a thick layer of fog. And we rode/walked up the hill to a playing field. The Taz paused to watch a kids’ baseball game for a bit, and was disappointed when the rest of us chose not to stay put.

“But I want to watch the game!” he sulked.

“We didn’t come all the way to San Francisco to just watch a Little League game. We came to see the sights,” I said. But 10 minutes later, I was wishing we really had just sat down and watched the game. The smooth road we had been walking on turned into rocky pebbles, hardly suitable for a skateboard. And it was all uphill. The Taz huffed and puffed as he still attempted to ride his board up the hill, and we, in turn, ignored the “No Skateboarding” signs painted on the road. We pretended that everything was going fine, even though the two older kids were silently following us, and the youngest was very vocal in telling us how this was the worst day of his life and that the whole trip sucked. It finally came apparent that, even though we had only eaten a couple hours earlier, the Taz was having a sugar crash. He pretty much sat down on the side of the road and oozed all over the sidewalk, trying to hide his tears from every single stranger while simultaneously making them super apparent to me. I pulled a granola bar out of my pocket and practically force fed him just to get him to be able to see straight. And then we decided that we would just go back to the car, grab a bite of dinner, and go home. And that’s when the Taz decided that what he really wanted was a hot dog, and a smooth place to skate. So we went back to the park near our car, bought him the most expensive hot dog in all of San Francisco (‘it’s the dog with a snap,’ the hot dog man told me, referencing the crunch of each bite), and then let him ride all over the park with signs that said “No Skateboarding” everywhere we turned. At this point, Mr. W and I were frayed at all ends, unable to see up or down or even know which way we wanted to turn. I think both of us just wanted to go home and forget about this day altogether. We all sat in different areas of the park, collecting our nerves and taking a bit of a breather. And in that moment I never felt so far away from Mr. W, and so distanced from the kids. I watched Mr. W as he stared out across the park. I glanced at the older kids as one closed his eyes and pretended to sleep and the other worked on a doodle in a notebook she’d been carrying around all day. And I regretted having ever set foot out of the house for this “family day”.

It wasn’t long after when I realized I hadn’t seen Taz for awhile, and I started to worry. As if on cue, Mr. W got up and caught my gaze. He nodded down to the other side of the park, I nodded back, and he took off to gather up my son so that we could all finally leave.

After some searching, a few more arguments, and finally a snap to the backseat to quit mouthing off, we finally reached the area of town that housed a Vietnamese restaurant that would be either really, really good, or that would poison us from lack of clean facilities to cook their food in. Lucky for us, it was really, really good food in a filthy place. And we survived it. The apprehension from the day momentarily was lost as the food did its magic, sedating us with the mystical herbs and spices that laced decadent beef soup and rice dishes. Left in a trance, we lazily made our way back to the car.

But the rawness of the day still hung in the air, and bedtime was a somber event. When the kids were all tucked in and kissed goodnight, Mr. W and I retired to his room, taking our places as semi-circles on a perfectly made bed, not sure what we should even say to each other. But the words flowed easily once the first one was breathed. And all topics were permitted as we covered the issue of parenting each other’s children, harboring expectations that don’t go as planned, and the reality of the family vacation that was only two weeks away as well as the reality of co-habitating that we planned on happening in less than a year. And as we came up with solutions – including the kids in family outing planning, stepping up allowance of our verbal guidance for each other’s kids, going with the flow to be able to change plans if Plan A isn’t working – the thick fog in the room made way for a harmonious sweet air. And we were finally able to breathe once more.

We’d been sucker-punched by the day. But still, something valuable came out of it. It was the yin and yang of it – our ability to come together from moments in chaos, lay out our frustrations, and hash them out one by one. It was re-learning that even the best of intentions can go awry. And it was knowing that even in the midst of an all out war, and when we are left licking our battle wounds and scars, we will survive and still feel whole in this mixed up family we are working at creating.

Step-parents and the blended family

Years ago I was in a serious relationship. To be more exact, I was in the first real relationship since my marriage. It was with a recently divorced man with a 4 year old son. The first several months were honeymooned bliss, complete with fantasies about our future together when we made things more permanent. We waited a few months before introducing the kids, going out for pizza as a way to take the pressure off of the real reason for going out to dinner. The kids took to him well, and my son and his son, being the same age, easily hit it off.

The next several months were great. We’d go hang out at his place and utilize his pool. And then we’d have BBQ’s in the evening. Everyone was happy.

Sounds perfect, right? At first, yes. But reality has a funny way of creeping in.

This man and I had different ways of discipline. His beliefs were that a child is to treat an adult with the utmost respect. And that isn’t necessarily a problem, except that he expected “Yes sir” and “No sir” when he barked out a command. When the 4 year olds were jumping on his furniture, as many 4 year olds will do when a piece of furniture looked as plush as his couch, he went ballistic. The result was that my son was a bad influence and was made to sit on his hands in a time-out. His child would show complete stubbornness, all out ignoring me and wanting nothing to do with me. If I asked him to do something, he would pretend like he didn’t hear me. But as soon as his father repeated it, he would comply. My kids, however, were yelled at for not sharing with his son, given time-outs for negative behavior, and treated as second class to his son. I became a secondary parent to my kids as he took over their disciplining. And we didn’t even live together.

Frankly, it was all bad. It was bad because he took on an extreme father role to my kids at too early of a stage. And it was bad because I helplessly stood by and let him, mistakenly believing that my kids needed to have a father since their own father wasn’t around at the time. His way of coming down hard on my kids while viewing his own child as the innocent in the matter left a bad taste in my mouth. My kids grew to hate him for the strict way he treated them and because they still loved their father and missed him terribly. I grew to resent him because I loved my children immensely and it was apparent that he didn’t, and probably never would feel love for them. Thankfully we had to see the light and understand that to continue this relationship would be to the detriment of our own sanity and our children’s well being.

Step-parenting is a delicate role for any relationship, particularly a new one, and especially for one that is so close to one that previously ended. The fact of the matter is, the children involved have two parents – whether they are present or not. The new person that enters their parent’s life is an intruder to a family that is theirs, and threatens to shake up something they don’t want changed. And it also takes away their hope that the two people they love the most will ever get back together and make the family whole again. A new person cements the brokenness of a divorced home. So any new person that comes along is automatically seen as Enemy #1.

The most delicate line, in my opinion, is when it comes to disciplining a partner’s child. The child doesn’t want it. You’re not their parent, and they’re angry that you are even pretending to be. And you are frustrated because this is your home too, and there are certain rules that need to be abided by for the home to remain harmonious.

So where’s the happy medium?

I can’t say that I have the ultimate of ultimate in answers to this one. I failed miserably in knowing where to draw that line in my previous relationship. And in my relationship with Mr. Wonderful, we discipline our own kids with only a quick reminder to the other’s child if they are doing something that needs to be stopped immediately. Mainly, we depend on the other to keep an eye out for their own children. And that’s easy to do since we don’t live together.

But what if you do live together and the child blatantly ignores your authority because you aren’t their biological parent? What then?

The few things that I have learned along the way is that communication is key. Kids are born manipulators. If they see a divided front between you and your partner, they will use that to their full advantage. It is important for you and your partner to discuss matters behind closed doors. If their child is undermining you, it is important for you to talk about this with your partner so that they can hopefully back you up. Sometimes you might disagree. Sometimes this might mean help from an outside source (i.e. therapy) is necessary. But make sure that it is you and your partner that have the upper hand, and not the child by making it clear that you two are working together and not against each other.

At the same time, it is important for you to understand the child’s side of it as well. You aren’t their parent. That doesn’t mean that you don’t have any authority, but it is vital that you understand their feelings in all of this. They had no say when their parents divorced. They had no say when their parents moved on. They had no say when you married their parent and everyone began living together in one house. They are angry, and even if it’s unfair, they are making you the scapegoat and unleashing their fury on you. Take a moment in their shoes and think about how it would feel if someone you loved was suddenly giving a large part of their attention to someone else. And then think about what it would be like to suddenly have this person in charge of you as well. Step back and relent a little. Let your partner step in as the main disciplinarian for them. Encourage peace in the house rather than slipping down the slope of resentment, and possibly the break-up of your marriage.

Understand that they do have another parent. You may not like this person. They may be the most awful person in this world and it is questionable why your partner even married them and had kids with them in the first place. But to this child, this other parent is one half of their whole world. Never, ever badmouth them. Even if the other parent is spewing hate to the child about you, never stoop to that level. Kids are smart. If they never hear a negative word out of your mouth about the other parent, they will notice. If you are in their corner and supportive of them, they will notice. Yes, I know. This is easier said than done. A jealous ex can spew the nastiest lies about a new person in their ex-spouse’s life. And they can do this easily because they don’t know you at all. They only know that their ex isn’t pining after them anymore. And the things they tell their child can be painful to you (p.s. if this is you, please stop. You aren’t helping your child by making them hate someone that their parent loves. You are instead creating invisible lines and mini wars. Don’t worry, your child will always choose you. But is it really necessary to have them prove their alliance by making them hate this new person?). Don’t be afraid to calmly tell them that such lies are untrue. Never, ever say it in a way that might demean their parent. The child will only hear the negative parts, not the positive. If you are unable to defend yourself without anger, just tell them that you are sorry they believe that. And leave it at that. When it comes to household rules, if they say, “but my mom doesn’t make me do that”, tell them that it may be fine in her house, but not in this house. And beware of them badmouthing their own parent. They are trying to trap you. If you agree with them, it will get back to the other parent that you said something mean and nasty.

Know your place. If you are new in a relationship, you are their parent’s mate and not their parent. Let your mate handle 100% of the discipline. If by doing so you are continuously disrespected and your mate isn’t curbing it, you really need to take a serious look at what the future might hold. If they aren’t taking action now, what’s going to make things happen differently in the future? If you are already a member of this blended family, take on a role that is separate from their bio parent. Get to know them, their strengths and weaknesses, their interests and their fears. Cheer them on as much as you can. The stronger your relationship is with them, the more they will be willing to take direction from you as well as their parent.

Are you a step parent? What works for you in creating harmony in a blended household? And what obstacles have you run across in a household of two families that are now one?