Problems "Blending"? Here's the Best Strategy!
What's the best way for a stepfamily to 'blend' or integrate? It's a question we've been asked many times, and it's an important one.
It's common when step-couples come together to be excited about merging and quickly becoming one big happy family. This sounds reasonable, but when stepfamilies attempt to 'blend' their complex dynamics (people, routines and backgrounds), they often run into problems. Pressuring family members to blend can unexpectedly bring about a backlash of anger, resentment and pain.
Stepfamilies are different than first families - they are distinct because kids are part of the stepfamily's structure from the beginning. Each child comes with unique experiences and connections that exist outside the stepfamily formation. Due to these complex dynamics, transition into stepfamily life can be challenging for everyone.
You may be surprised to learn that research shows it takes an average of 7 years for a stepfamily to function together effectively. Many couples feel disappointed when they hear this, but that's usually because they're holding onto some unrealistic expectations. The good news is, this reality doesn't have to be disappointing…
The Best Way to Cook a Stepfamily
In his book The Smart Stepfamily, Ron Deal uses kitchen appliances to explore the best way to "Cook" a stepfamily:
First, let's take a look at the Blender. When attempting to blend a stepfamily, the ingredients or family members, are rapidly mixed together. Often, this occurs without considering the unique aspects of each individual ingredient. The 'blending' stepfamily will unintentionally chop up one another's past, histories and traditions in an attempt to blend all the ingredients together. However, this chops up the individuals that feel connection to those things. The mentality is to leave the past behind and create or "whip up" a new and improved family. As Ron says, "someone usually ends up getting creamed in the process!"
How about the Pressure Cooker? This stepfamily style attempts to force acceptance and love through pressure and expectation. A parent might say something like: "why don't you just call him daddy?" or "she's your new step-mom…go ahead and sit on her lap". The message this sends to kids is: "What's good for me should be good for you, now take care of me by loving and accepting my new partner and our new situation". This inevitably creates stress since expectations are so high and the lid often blows off the pot.
What about the Microwave? The microwave stepfamily will seek to instantly heat up the ingredients with high expectations; everything and everyone will operate just like a 'nuclear' or first family. These stepfamilies often refuse to be defined as a stepfamily and choose to deny the unique dynamics of their complex situation. This can create parental blind spots and underlying issues that lead to pain and dysfunction in the family.
Consider the Crock Pot: The ingredients are thrown together into the same pot, but each is left intact, giving affirmation to its unique origin and characteristics. Stepfamilies choosing the crock pot style ofintegration understand that time and low heat make for an effective combination.
There is no way around it; healthy integration takes time and patience. Stepfamilies need time to adjust to new living conditions, new parenting styles, rules and responsibilities. They need time to experience one another and develop trust, connection and a shared history. They need time to find a sense of belonging and an identity as a family unit. None of these things can be rushed or forced.
Children who experience a crock pot environment will have the ability to gently ease into stepfamily life without internal conflict and stress.
Adjusting Our Expectations
When it comes to integrating and building healthy bonds, we need to examine our expectations. Couples who apply the crock pot strategy and keep their expectations in line, will feel a sense of relief and freedom. They are able to relax, enjoy time with family members and allow bonding to happen gradually.
QUESTION: What unrealistic expectations do you have about family integration that you need to let go of? Leave a comment below: