Marrying someone who has children from a previous relationship is a huge transition to navigate. Adults adjust differently than children. Children adjust different than their bio parents. Parents may be seeing things a bit more optimistic than the kids and it’s important for everyone to slow down, take time and truly get to know each other. Like my friend, Ron Deal always says, “Creating connection in a blended family does not happen like a microwave, but instead, like a crockpot – low heat, longer time, patience and endurance.” We live in such a “microwave mentality” and want things quick and immediate; however, growing love and authentic connections can take up to seven years in blending a family.
There is also another factor at play that can be quite a blind spot: the “insider – outsider dynamic.” The people in the family who have a biological connection are considered “insiders” and the non-biologically connected people are “outsiders.” Moments happen by accident when this dynamic is vastly at play. It could be a parent and his/her children talking about a family vacation or something special that happened before the parent met his/her new spouse. The new spouse can feel left out and if the new spouse has children, they can also feel left out. This is something that could be talked about, pro-actively, in a family meeting even before getting married so that everyone (kids and adults) can know that it might happen and brainstorm creative ways for the person feeling on the “outside” to speak up so the moment doesn’t go by and build resentment.
The other interesting idea that HELPs blended families it to pro-actively plan on “bio time” when those that are biologically connected do an activity for a few hours or half a day and then return to the collective whole. When kids gain a step parent it can cause a bit of jealousy or uncertainty in children; however, having “bio time” on a pre-planned and consistent timeframe will help alleviate some of the struggle. Kids want to be sure that even though their parent is getting married that they will always be “seen” in their biological parents’ eyes and priorities.
Crockpots, not microwaves, along with on-going “bio time” and awareness of the “insider/outsider” dynamics are all ingredients to a well-connected blended family that will become its own unique version of love, over time.
Tammy Daughtry, MMFT Founder, CoParenting International and TheStepmomConnection.com lives in Nashville, TN with her beautifully blending family.