Blending families: How we make it work


Monday, July 30, 2018

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RUNNING a blended family household can be very challenging.

Your spouse is now a step-parent, your child has to adjust and accept that they have an extra mother or father, you have to contend with the family members you inherit, and the whole nine yards.

But Stacy-Ann Smith, associate therapist at Family Life Ministries, said that once the parties involved understand that with the two different families there will be different expectations and challenges, with patience and togetherness the arrangement can work.

Importantly, Smith said it's important that you work in alliance with your former partner.

“It makes no sense in this new blended family you have created that you distance yourself or disregard the role the former partner plays in all of this. Look at the example of Will Smith, his former wife, and Jada — they all coexist. It's a good example of what it could look like.”

In addition, Smith said there are a number of steps that must come together to make it work. They include coming up with a plan, empathising with how your children may feel, working out the dynamics of the new family, developing a relationship with your stepchildren, establishing clear rules, and having bonding activities.

Below two blended families share their experiences.

Teisha and Gary Campbell

Teisha: For a number of years it was just me and Janine. Her biological father was not playing a role. At the time my husband and I were great friends and he was Janine's godfather, but he was the only man she really knew as her biological father would pop in every few years. Eventually we entered into a relationship and over time on her own she started calling her godfather daddy, but she knew who her biological father was. Then her godfather became her stepfather, but thankfully there were no issues. Her biological father was not playing any role and he knew Gary and knew he was able to manage, so I guess he just never interfered. A year before he died he started coming around but the horse was already gone. His sister knows the full 100 and she used to jump in and assist at times. But there was no quarrel or squabble. We are really good friends to this day and she comes to church with us. In our family my younger daughter knows that she does not have more ties to us than Janine does. We are all one and everyone is treated equally.

Wayne and Tami Chin Mitchell

Tami: We've been a blended family for over a decade now. From the very beginning we've all been very mindful and conscious about creating a safe space for Gio, who I consider to be my son. We've always been able to kind of put ourselves aside and just focus on him. People always ask how we make it work. Naturally they expect the women to be having the drama, and in some instances they expect for the men to be having the drama with the father that stepped in, but Regina and I never had any drama and the bottom line is that neither of us are driven by any conflict or any confrontation. We just don't have that as part of our daily life. I'm very blessed that Regina is who she is. That was a huge part of why we could develop the relationship we have today. We put Gio first and what was beautiful is that by the time Wayne and I got married we were able to be friends at that time and share in each other's joy. She came to my wedding, I went to her wedding, and out of it has blossomed a friendship. In the beginning you do what you think is right, but what's amazing is that you never know what life has in store for you. I'm happy to say both couples get on very well. Her husband is a part of our family too and we try to include each other in everything we're doing and not just based on or around Gio. I know it's not everyone's reality and people are hurting and are not able to put the children first. But putting your feelings aside is super important to create safety, peace, love and comfort for your child. Regardless of what happens between two people, you share this human connection through your children. Take it back to basics — say it is the most important factor and not how I feel as a parent towards you as a parent. Then you can really focus on the beauty. It is not easy for people to shed all that comes with every type of separation, but you have to look and ask yourselves, do I have my children's best interest at heart, or is it about me?

To make things simpler for other families, Chin Mitchell shared her five commandments below:

1. Communication

“Being able to communicate is important in a blended family that consists of three or more parents. For us there are four in our immediate village — me, Wayne, Regina and Rashid. We all have a different way of communicating but we ensure the goal is for the interest of Gio. In prep school communicating was about who would pick up or drop off; now there are different challenges and we are not afraid to pick up the phone, call and say, 'Hey, how do I deal with this, let's bounce some ideas off each other'.“

2. Respect natural boundaries

”This is about coming to a realisation that no matter how I or Rashid feel about things, the final decision is between Wayne and Regina. It takes a certain level of wisdom and maturity to say we follow your lead. Understanding boundaries within the space is super important. Importantly, don't feel like what you bring to the table is less.“

3. Love and respect

Show a lot of love and respect for each other even when you don't agree. I don't always agree with every choice made, they don't always agree, but we all know we are coming from a space of love and respect and wanting the best for our children.”

4. Develop outside relationships

“You don't have to call each other everyday but we have our own bonds and relationships. We send each other pictures and so forth and have genuine friendships outside of Gio.”

5. Create family time together

“Don't just do things separately, but try to come together and do things as a unit with all the kids. So it's not just your family or my family; rather, we are one family.“

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