When we think about what a family is, whether it is a nuclear, single parent, extended, blended orstep family, we have an ideal in mind. Please do continue to strive for your personal ideal as you manage your blended family. Realistically speaking, though, we know that few families attain ideal stature. This is not to say that we should have low expectations. We just need to try to have our expectations be realistic when it comes to how well and how easily our blended family comes together.
Expectations of the blended family
Expectations between spouses in a blended family need to be reasonable, mutual, and flexible. It is a sad fact that almost a third of blended families fail, and some might suggest it is because of unreasonable expectations of what a remarriage will bring. It would be fair to say that most spouses hope it will be better, of course, than their previous partnerships; certainly, more loving, more understanding, more supportive and more respectful. And it would go without saying that most hope the children will be happier.
When the children do not seem happy
As parents and step parents, it is important to remember that children of divorce and remarriage often continue to feel the loss of divorce long after one of their parents finds a new partner and for quite a while into a remarriage. You may have divorced your ex-spouse, but you children did not divorce anyone. As a matter of fact, some kids hold onto the hope that their parents may still someday get back together. It might be helpful to take another look at why you expected your children to be happier.
Which expectations belong to whom?
When you share your own expectations with your blended family, things work out better than if you assume their expectations are the same as yours. It may be that your step kids cannot imagine calling you anything but your first name. It may be that your new mother-in-law expects her child to talk over family matters with her before you even hear about them. It may be that you thought being a step parent would mean being a friend to the step kids. It may be that the step siblings think they should not have to share bedrooms or bathrooms or homework spaces. When you plan a blended family, it is smart to remember that it does not develop the way a nuclear family does – over an extended period of time, arrival of children spaced apart, building joint traditions and rituals. Blended families throw people together who already have their own traditions and rituals, and their own expectations.
Communicate, communicate, communicate!
When you tell your step kids that they can or cannot do something, give them a reason. Say something like, “you have done so well doing your chores without complaining that you certainly deserve an afternoon off with your friends.” Or, “I’m afraid I have to say no because you haven’t done your homework, and you have a test tomorrow.”
Communicate to your step family members that blended family rules travel with you as a family.
When you visit your bio family for special occasions, explain to your step kids that they are now important members of your family, too, and you expect them to go with you to visit the rest of the blended family. Also, it is a good idea to be sure step kids understand that there will be appropriate consequences for not being congenial and polite at blended family gatherings, extended family or otherwise.
Expectations can be a two-edged sword. If you do not keep expectations high enough, you are asking for disappointment. If you keep them too high, or do not let people know what they are, you are asking for disappointment. Be realistic, reasonable, and understanding. Let your blended family come to expect that!