What I don’t like is pushiness about blending (putting pressure on everyone to embrace their new family situation before they’re ready). What I do like is being sensitive, optimistic and thoughtful. With that in mind, here are some ideas for encouraging family blending–I stand by them because they have worked for us.
- Take it easy, baby. There’s no rush, no reason to have to blend quickly. If you remarry or move in together with a new partner the second you’re divorced, you’re putting a lot of pressure on your kids to adapt. You’re sending them the message that the life they were so attached to before means very little to you, that you (and they) must wipe it out and rebuild, stat. You’re setting them up for post-traumatic stress, or at least tough times. Also, you’re openly disrespecting your ex if you introduce a new parental figure into your children’s lives before they’ve had a minute to deal with the shake-up of your divorce. Instead, start slow. Try occasional get-togethers with your kids and your potential mate’s family over the span of a year or two–or even more–before you go whole-hog.
- Let the kids lead. Kids progress in relationships as they are comfortable to do so. Your children and your partner’s children will rightfully feel each other out, and discover where and how they can connect best. Their relationships will flourish naturally without much interference from you, so don’t feel like you have to go overboard contextualizing, explaining and interpreting their new potential step-sibling(s) for them. That said, if you know of certain activities that they enjoy in common, you can plant the seeds for relationships by helping them connect the dots (playing the movies or songs they all like; taking them to places they all love; bringing out toys they can all get into–on that last one, be sure you have enough to go around or there’s going to be a competition). Our kids have been taking tennis lessons together, which has been a real hit.
- Say it with pictures. As the memories build up through the years, so does your file of photos. One day when you have tons to choose from, and you get an offer for free prints from Shutterfly, order 100 photos and let the kids use them to make a collage together. They’ll have fun choosing the memories that mean the most to them, and you’ll keep them busy and occupied for a couple hours. Other notable photo-related blending aids: framed pictures on the walls that reflect your blended family life; that first blended family portrait (use someone awesome who understands your family dynamic and has techniques for managing blended families on a shoot); get the kids involved in shooting family photos and videos. When they’re in control of building their memories, they embrace those memories much more readily.
- Build community together. The kids are going to have their separate communities due to time sharing. There’s no way they can know all the same people. But as time goes by you have the opportunity to help them build a community in common, too. A few examples: if there’s a way for the kids to have a shared school experience where they see each other during the way, that’s a major foundation builder. Even if not, taking them to special events at each other’s schools helps them meet one another’s friends and understand one another’s lives. Yesterday I was at a homecoming parade with my children and Xander saw some of Ella’s friends–he had only met them once or twice but he was excited because they were her’s. It was sweet to see their bond at work. Also, keep your eyes open for families in your proximity that have a similar age range of kids, and make play dates that allow all your kids to bond with these new friends.
- Get a pet. Pets mean different things to different people. To a blended family, a pet is someone to bond around, connective tissue, you could say. Our cat Russel, who came to us last year, is equally everyone’s, and everyone loves him equally. His presence has somehow leveled the playing field and enhanced the feeling of unity in our home. He came with instructions from Santa that delineated each child’s duties with regard to Russel, so all the kids feel charged to care for him and love him.