So much expectation.
So much disappointment.
So much pressure.
So much joy.
During a recent podcast, Eric and I were discussing a viewer/listener requested topic about feeling like you lose your spouse the second their child walks through the door until they leave. If you listened, you probably noticed some heightened senses between the two of us. That's because we both feel this same way each week as the kids come and go. It never feels good to come in second place. It never feels good to feel side-stepped or dismissed. It never feels good to feel like a third wheel or a roommate. It never feels good to not feel like your partner's best friend. All those negative feels can cause a lot of resentment, distance and annoyance that is hard to bounce back from. As the conversation on air continued, we landed on that it is a lack of a family bond that will ultimately cause this feeling of disconnect, this feeling of isolation. When you are not pulled in, when you are not willing to be pulled in, when you feel unwanted and ignored it is a symptom of a much bigger problem.
I often get asked what should be considered before you officially blend your family with someone else's. My answer now, years deep in, would be very different from if you had asked me in the beginning. Love is not enough. The truth is you can not predict what obstacles you will face with all the moving parts of a blended family. With all the growth and all the potential change and all the other people involved, it takes more than just a feeling to keep it together. You may love your partner, but often that same love and commitment you have for them is on a very different level than that which you (in your heart of hearts) are naturally able to bestow upon who they have in tow (and the entourage that comes with). And what didn't bother you two seconds into the relationship, or what you chose to overlook in the name of love, will in fact become nails on a chalkboard with both your spouse and their kids seven, ten, fifteen years in. All this is normal. There needs to be, however, another component to glue two families (or even just husband and wife) together; that acts as a bond(ing agent).
Before you blend your family, or if you already have and are struggling to actually feel "blended", find something over which everyone can connect and bond over. Have a common hobby or interest to all engage in. This will allow an ease of getting to know one another in the beginning and facilitate that bond that will later act as glue to hold you all together down the road. That which bonds will spark meaningful connection between all family members. Later on in life, it will be something to come back to and reconnect over when things feel off track. It will provide an escape from the heavy. Also, finding something to all enjoy together often will open more doors and provide other opportunities for you to grow your family identity all together; and what is more bonding than that?
No one can compete with, replace, or take away the memories and experiences you have as a family unit; it's pretty powerful stuff. Make sure they are good. When everything is a fight, when outings are miserable, and when you'd rather be back at work than on a family vacation, you may want to consider this a red flag to either rethink things if you haven't already married, or if you have, use this as a wake up call to reconsider how you are doing/going about things. I believe being able to bond with one another is key to blend families successfully because it gives you something to hold onto.
Connection leads you down a road of affection and love when it isn't instant right off the bat (side note: I don't believe that every personality is able to connect so really think about the people you are saying yes to before you walk down that isle). There is this expectation for us to love one another's kids because we love our partner, but that is an unreasonable ask in my opinion. Love may (and probably will) grow (swiftly or slowly), but allow things to unfold naturally through time and shared experiences. Forced connection never works out and pressuring anyone in your family will only drive them farther away. Because of all that, it is wise to take your time and observe and interact with your potential spouse and their kids in as many different circumstances as possible before you say "I do" (holidays, funerals, stressed out times, times of joy, celebrations, family functions, co parenting relations, vacations, dinner time, etc...). See the potential for shared interests or acknowledge the lack of. Try as many things as you can together until you are able to find something(s) that stick and then build on that. It takes a long time to get to know someone and when you add kids into the dynamic, it takes even longer.
Our family is still working on this. What we have found is that for us, something to bond over feels like a moving target and we just can't seem to hit the bulls eye. When the kids were younger and we first got together they were easy to please playing at the park, in our homes, and just doing little kid things. As the kids got older, their interests became extremely individualized, and we no longer knew what to do with our hands lol. Each kid has grown into their own personality, and while that fills us with pride to watch, it makes our family feel like nothing more than herding kittens when we all try to hang out complete with scratches and ringing ears. Each one of us are SO different (Eric and I included), so it's been a real challenge. We are looking forward to this summer though as we have plans to spend as much of it at the lake doing all the lake sport things. Here is a family picture after a long day on the lake late last summer. It's crazy to look at this below and see how much the kids have grown since then!
I want to encourage all of you that it takes many, many years for blended families to come into their own. I know there is this need for instant gratification but this is a marathon, not a sprint. If you are in years 1 - 7, you probably are still forging your way, and that is perfectly okay. Just keep working at it. Take things one day at a time. Wake up each morning with the mindset that each day is a new opportunity for your family. Don't lose hope.
Here are some ideas for things your family can try to bond over:
Horse Back Riding
Board Games/Game Night
Sports (watching or playing)
Serving in your church
Serving in your community
Working on home projects
Lake: Boating/Water Sports
Collecting (insert something you like to collect here)
An "ours" baby
The possibilities are endless, and when you start connecting in one area, you will find that it will bleed over into other areas and things will progress in a fulfilling way. Please comment below and let us know what your family has connected and bonded over!