Hello and Happy 2014!!
Before I get into my 10 tips for a happy blended family, let me just start by saying a few things.
- I do not have all the magic answers (but some fun ideas…so keep reading).
- I’m going to try to share lots of creative ideas that have actually worked for us.
- This tends to be an emotional topic and each situation is different. As I share my thoughts with you, they are based on my own personal situation. Please read and then take what might apply to your situation.
- And last but not least, if you are reading this because you are in a blended family, I have instantly become your biggest cheerleader! There is nothing easy about being in a blended family and I salute you for trying!!
I have been blessed to be a step-mother/mother to the GREATEST 9 kids on earth for almost 9 years (and also a darling son-in-law). We literally are a “his-hers-and-ours” family. Our family’s journey has been very difficult in some ways, but my husband and I have been determined to build a strong and happy family in spite of our situation. From the beginning it was very clear that I had to give it my best efforts if I was going to be able to help everyone heal. We have not been perfect at this. Much of creating a blended family is trial and error, but I am a firm believer that we can create our own happiness in just about any situation. The things I’m sharing are things I have learned along the way. I’ve talked to a lot of our kids as well and asked them what has helped. They had a lot to say, and it was fun to hear their perspective. When you read the following tips, remember that much of this is THEIR perspective.
10 TIPS FOR A HAPPY BLENDED FAMILY!
1. IT’S NOT THEIR FAULT: In our home, this has been the most important thing to remember. Divorce is traumatic and the ones who suffer the most are the children involved. This was not their choice, yet they deal with the effects of it daily. Do WHATEVER you can to provide a secure and safe environment. Kids need to feel secure and reassured after going through a divorce. It has to be ok for them to feel ANYTHING they feel. They need to know they are loved REGARDLESS of how they struggle with it. No matter what you do, try so hard to remember this.
2. CHOOSE TO LOVE: When I married my sweetheart, I not only made a commitment to love and accept him, but I also made that commitment to his children. It literally is a package deal. They are not just tag-alongs. They are part of him. Make the choice to LOVE THEM. Even when you wonder if they love you in return. Don’t let your mind go there. If you struggle with that, go back to Tip #1. 🙂 Find ways to show them love.
LOVE NOTES: I started writing them little love notes on Valentine’s Day years ago and it has continued. Don’t underestimate the power of words. Especially to a child who is hurting inside. If you are struggling with a child, stop right now and go write them a quick little note. Go. Do it. Tell them something good that you see in them. Let them know that they are important to you. And do it with NO expectations of any kind of response. It will make a difference. I promise. I actually did this post for my sweetie (it’s a good one for Valentine’s Day), but I’ve also used the idea for a couple of our kids as well when I’ve noticed they were struggling. If all you can do is print and cut the little hearts out and hide them for them to find, that’s GREAT! The added note on the back can be a bonus.
SWEET TREAT HUNT: I would suggest using this idea on a child you are struggling with or a child you know is struggling with the situation. NO CHILD can remain unaffected when shown love. I put a little treat in our little cupcake and hide it. When they come home, I let them know they have a “Sweet Treat Hunt” to go on. It’s a fun way to let them know that they are important to you and that you are CHOOSING to love them. You can learn more about the “Sweet Treat Hunt” here.
3. FORGET YOURSELF: This may sound like a crazy tip, but it really is the most powerful one. When you can put your feelings aside and make them your first priority, 9 times out of 10, you will see something really great happen. PUT THEM FIRST. Remember: You are the adult. They are children. When it’s tough…again…Tip #1. What can YOU do to help THEM?
4. CREATE NEW TRADITIONS: This has become one of our best tools. One of the hardest things in our situation was to create unity in our family. My purpose behind each tradition was to create something we could do together. I thought I’d share just a few fun ideas that have become our favorites. Just make the time to do something. Anything. Even if it’s something small. You are creating a family…so all these little things make a difference. I’ll share a couple of things that we do.
Birthdays: I love celebrating their birthdays! I think their birthdays become even more important when you are in a blended family. Remember: ANYTHING you can do to reassure them and make them feel loved and secure is a good thing! And their birthdays are the perfect time to do it! Here’s one of our favorite birthday traditions. We do the “Birthday Cupcake” (read about it here). It’s similar to the “Sweet Treat Hunt”, but it’s bigger! I place some small birthday presents in it and hide it. Then they have to find it first thing in the morning. Once again, you are showing them that you care about them to do something a little special for them.
Valentine’s Day: I write love notes on hearts and hang them around the entryway to our dining room. (Find out why I love this so much here). I like hanging them all together, that way they may actually read each other’s and are reminded why they are all so lovable, thus helping with contention. 🙂 We also have a Valentine’s Day dinner. Cheap decorations from the dollar store and something easy to cook. Once again, reminding all of us that we are a family. The thing that they look forward to is the handwritten Valentine that is under their plate that BOTH parents write on. The candy doesn’t hurt either. 🙂
Christmas: These fun little ornaments are one of our favorite Christmas Traditions.
We sit and work on these together for hours. They laugh and talk together. We remember those “moments” and we love them. You can get more details on these here. It really is kind of a silly tradition. It has no magical powers of solving any big problems, but it’s “OUR” tradition and we started it our first Christmas together, so it’s special to us. Just find something fun and new you can make “YOURS”. We actually have around 10 fun Christmas traditions…maybe even more. I believe that it has helped diminish some of the pain and confusion associated with sharing the holidays with two different families. They’re too busy to think about it. 🙂
The most important thing I want to say about Christmas is that it can be stressful on everyone involved. The bouncing back and forth is hard on kids. We try to make it special for them when they are with us, and when they come back home. In my opinion, this is the hardest holiday. Just love them. Be aware of them. Spend time with them. Reassure them. It should always be ok for them to enjoy being in BOTH places. Don’t feel threatened. Don’t worry about anything except the time they are with you. Reassure them that you want them to have fun when they aren’t with you. It literally gives them permission to do so, and they won’t feel guilty anymore about enjoying something without you. Most of all enjoy them!
HALLOWEEN: We have done this special meal every year and it never gets old. It’s something they KNOW is going to happen. I don’t think it’s the meal itself that has become all that important, but it’s the fact that it’s something they can count on it. Click here for the menu and some fun printables.
5. OPEN COMMUNICATION: So important! In our home, it is ok to talk about ANYTHING you want. And it’s ok to feel anything you feel. We do have to place boundaries on HOW you talk about it sometimes, but it has been important to us to create a home where they are safe to express how they are feeling. Sometimes it’s hard to hear what they have to say. And the best suggestion I can give you is…TIP #1 and TIP #3. 🙂 It may take some time to build up enough trust for them to want to talk to you. THAT’S OK! Be patient, let them know you care, ask questions that show you want to know what they honestly feel about something, and try to always respond with some kind of validation. Remember…it has to be ok to feel anything they feel.
We established the “Chocolate Talk” to discuss tough issues relating to sex, but we have also had kids use it to talk to us about things that are hard. If they have something tough to talk about, all they have to do is come to us and tell us they need a “chocolate talk”. We literally pull out the chocolate, sit on the bed and talk about tough stuff while shoving chocolate in our mouths. It’s delightful. 🙂 For some reason, chocolate is the magic answer for many things in our home. It may seem silly, but it works like a charm.
6. SERVE TOGETHER: Nothing bad ever comes from serving others. Years ago we decided as a family to do secret acts of service for a sweet girl at church that has Down syndrome. The kids have all participated in this and it has become one of our favorite things. It doesn’t matter how old or young they are, they still get excited when I tell them we are doing it. I can honestly say that serving her has brought us so much happiness and has brought us closer. I LOVE this list of random acts of kindness ideas on KidsActivities.net! There are SO MANY ideas with links to a million more!!
Teach them to serve…and serve with them. No matter how old they are, they can do something. Our Lucy Lu-Lu has even caught the bug. You can read here how our sweet little 4 yr. old found joy in service. As you can see from Lucy, it doesn’t have to be any big thing. Serving others always helps us lose focus of our own troubles. It’s magic…I promise.
7. TEACH THEM TO SUPPORT AND LOVE EACH OTHER: This is critical in having a happy blended family. When you bring two separate groups of kids together, it can get a bit tricky. When someone has a special event, we ALL try to go. When someone accomplishes something great, we ALL cheer them on. There are a few things we’ve done to try to foster those feelings towards each other. As a mom, we can set the tone in our home, and I think we have a better shot at being successful when we can have fun with it. I’ll share some of our favorite ideas that have helped us pull together as a family.
HUMBLE CHAIR: Our kids have really struggled over the years at different times with feeling secure, feeling confident, knowing where their place is in our family, etc. So we do the “Humble Chair”. (Read about it here). One person sits in a chair, and everyone goes around and says something they love about that person, or they can point out a talent or strength. This has been something that was not easy for them to do for each other at first. But, after we do it, they KNOW they are important and they KNOW they are loved by each member in our family. I LOVE the “Humble Chair”.
FAMILY DINNER PLATES: These have literally worked wonders in our home. I would recommend that EVERY blended family get these…or something similar. We have done all sorts of things with them to help with the struggles of a blended family. The one we do the most often is just pass them out randomly. As we start dinner, we take turns looking at the person on our plate and say what we love about them. Read about what else we do with them here. Did I mention I love these?
CATCH SOME KINDNESS: If you have a home where there is contention, this may just be your answer. It will take up too much space to explain it, but you can read about it here. It’s basically a reward system for kids who are kind to each other, and also for kids who are willing to recognize it. It has been a very special thing to have in our home. I’m also willing to admit that a little bribery never hurt anyone. Oh, how I love this.
SET GOALS/BULLETIN BOARD: Once a month we discuss as a family some things we would like to focus on. Then I create the board. If I’m aware of a certain conflict, I can create a board centered around that. I did this specific board at a time when we had a bit of conflict and hurt feelings. We talked about what we could do, and then I added some of my own. I kept it up all month. It hangs in plain sight, so you can’t help but glance at it and be reminded. Any time you can work together in ANY kind of family, you are strengthened. And as a family gets stronger, you typically love each other more. WIN-WIN! You can read more about our bulletin board here.
GOOD OLD FASHIONED FUN: One of the funnest ways to help your family be close is to just have fun with them. With nine children, any kind of competition has been an instant success. It can be as simple as giving them a bag of marshmallows, a stack of saltine crackers or cheese balls and see who can fit the most in their mouths. Or it can be as easy as this gummy worm competition. Every once in a while I’ll do something a bit fancier like the “Popcorn Olympics”. SO MUCH FUN!!!! You can find out the rules and what’s needed here. I promise there will be times when you will NEED something to make everyone smile, to help everyone take a breath and to help everyone forget everything but that moment. GREAT things happen when we laugh together.
8. TAKE PHOTOS: This is a HUGE one, and I’ll tell you why. When we sit and look back at photos over the years, we laugh, everyone’s in shock at how young they were when were started this crazy “blended family” adventure, and it gives us an opportunity to literally see our progress and remember very happy moments we’ve had along the way. It’s a reminder that we are a success, that we are happy and that somewhere in this crazy mess, we’ve accomplished something great. We’ve built a new happy family out of a bunch of broken hearts. Our photos and the story they tell are among my greatest treasures.
9. BALANCED DISCIPLINE & RULES: Here’s the tough one. Just remember TIP #1, and let it give you the courage and strength to do this one! Remember their whole world has changed. Will they act out? Probably…at some point. All I can say to that is TIP #1! TIP #1! One thing I am convinced of is that kids don’t want a “Disneyland parent”. (This comes from the mouths of many of our children.) Will they enjoy it? Yes, at the moment. But, their whole lives have been turned upside down and they need things that they can count on. Rules are one of those things. Our kids said, all they really want and need is our time. They want to be with us. They want us to spend time with them. It’s reassuring. It restores stability in their lives. They also said they need rules. They want to know and understand what the boundaries and expectations are. Again, it restores stability. Can I repeat what they said? They WANT boundaries and expectations. My advice? Don’t worry about what is happening in someone else’s home. You can’t control that. Worry about your home. What are your expectations for them? How can you give them consistent rules and boundaries? How can you help them succeed in becoming great adults?! Will some argue that they don’t want boundaries? YEP! Don’t believe them. 🙂
10. INVOLVE GOD: It really doesn’t matter what your beliefs are. I don’t think any of us have anything to lose by involving God in the one thing that matters most…our families. I can honestly say that I credit Him for any success we’ve had. We try to read something out of the scriptures every night and we kneel together and say family prayers every night. We pray for each other. We pray for our family. And it is powerful. At the end of the day, it puts us all on the same page. It brings peace. It reminds us that we are important to each other. Out of all the tips, I would suggest this one the most. (I share the same beliefs as Mariel, you can find out more about them here.)
I could easily give you many more tips! Being in a blended family can be tricky to figure out. It can be painful for everyone involved. And it is part of life…EVERY DAY. Take time to celebrate your successes! Pay attention to what works. DON’T GIVE UP. And most of all, be grateful for your family and enjoy them.
*I do have a tip for those who DON’T live in blended families and are still in their first marriage.
TIP: Fight for your marriage. Fight for your family. Do what you can to hold it together. While I ABSOLUTELY love my sweet little family, I would give anything for our kids to have not had these struggles. In the end, I know that happiness can be found in every situation. There is always hope. There is always a way to make it through the hard times. It’s worth our BEST efforts. A leader in my church once said, “The most important work you will ever do will be within the walls of your own home.” Harold B. Lee.
I believe that. It IS the most important work. It doesn’t matter what kind of “family” you have. A family is a family. The fact that you are willing to try is EVERYTHING!! Let’s all get to work and create some happy families! Have a great month.