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Life in the Slow Lane: Don’t just press ‘mix’ when blending families

By From page A3 | June 11, 2014

My household is loud, and involves more meal planning, chore charts and trips to Costco than I could ever imagine. And yes, people think we are crazy. But “it’s our crazy,” I explain, and it’s a choice I made.

Sure, I never planned on having six kids — but here I am living in a blended family.

For those who are wondering what a blended family means, it’s when two people with children from previous relationships all live together, otherwise known as The Brady Bunch.

However, unlike The Brady Bunch, most blended families don’t come with someone to do the laundry and cook (if only that were true). What’s true is this is hard, hard work. It’s not for the faint of heart.

From a kid’s perspective, here are two adults creating a new family for him that he may or may not be so thrilled about. Then, to top it off, the new couple may decide to have children together. So, this kid has the potential to have step-siblings, a step-parent, a new home and possibly a baby added to the mix … and he is supposed to be happy about this?

Oh, one more thing to add — this kid may be experiencing all of this blended family stuff twice if both of his parents remarry someone with children.

From an adult’s perspective, blending families often leaves one asking, “How do I do this?” And it’s possible their friends are saying, “Why are you doing this?”

It’s simple — you find someone you love, and at a certain age, many folks come with kids as a package deal. The odds are high when someone with kids ventures out to date again that the person he or she finds will have kids as well.

The “how” of blending is a little more complicated. Joining two families needs to be done with intention, not by throwing everyone in a blender and pressing “mix.” Taking things slowly, understanding the needs of each person in the family, and getting kids some extra support if necessary should all be part of the process.

Even if the kids aren’t living with a parent full-time, blending a family impacts them. Is the child who has never shared a bedroom now going to have a step-sibling for a roommate? Are the step-siblings now faced with sharing a class at school?

Depending on each kid’s age, the impact of these situations will vary. But their stress can be lessened by having empathy for their experiences, open communication and patience. Note: An extra helping of patience will come in handy when “You’ve ruined my life!” is heard for the first time. No one enjoys that moment!

Intention also means that the entire family tries to have compassion and understanding as everyone adjusts to each other and the environment. No one in the mix is used to living with each other. Family meetings and time one-on-one with each child can help.

Even though therapy is my business, I had no idea what I was getting into when we all moved in together. And although I wouldn’t undo it, I am still searching for that extra helping of patience.

— Valerie Frankel, MFT, is a licensed therapist in private practice who lives in Davis with her family. Her column is published monthly. Reach her at [email protected]

Valerie Frankel

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