How to Minimize Disappointment in Your Blended Family
"We knew blending our families wasn't going to happen overnight, but we were sure we'd make more progress by now…" — Kim and I hear this kind of disappointment expressed by most every step-couple we connect with.
Most of us head into blended family life because we've fallen in love and we're ready to head into our future with a partner at our side. We can't imagine major conflict entering into our new relationship. We go in expecting to be connected and united in parenting. We dive in with hopes for a quick "blending" experience.
But, it doesn't take long for reality to set in. No one ever dreams about how their stepfamily life will someday be filled with packed calendars, disrespectful step-kids, dwindling romance and all-out battle with the Ex. And these are only a few of the many challenges experienced by countless step-couples.
Our personal blended family journey has been filled with lots of disappointments like these. Most of them were tied to unrealistic expectations.
Early on I got along great with my 5-year-old step-daughter. The co-parenting relationship between Kim and her Ex was peaceful and cooperative.
But connecting with a step-child who is 5-years-old is different than connecting with that same child during their teen years. And co-parenting will definitely change as a child moves from pre-school to high school. We were often disappointed when things didn't go the way we expected.
If you want to move through your current disappointments and minimize future ones, you've got to examine your expectations.
Setting Realistic Expectations
Your expectations directly impact the amount of disappointment you experience in stepfamily life, because all of our disappointments are rooted in some kind of unmet expectations. One of our stepfamily course participants put it this way, "Unrealistic expectations are predetermined disappointments."
Unrealistic expectations will leave you trapped in disappointment - in your circumstances, your partner, your kids & step-kids - and even disappointment in yourself.
Realistic expectations will help you escape disappointment and keep you responding with confidence as you lead your blended family forward.
Let's take a look at 4 ways to keep your expectations realistic:
1. Wants vs. Needs
Everyone wants their family to blend quickly and peacefully, but for most of us that's unrealistic. We want our kids to behave in a responsible and respectful manner, but that's likely not to happen ALL of the time. We want the romance we experience early on to stick around for a while, but the spontaneity turns to routine for all of us. I could keep going, but you get the idea.
What we need is patience for blending, a plan to hold the kids accountable and intentionality in keeping our romance alive. Expecting any of these things to happen in a short time span and without effort will set you up for disappointment.
Take some time to think about what you want for your family and see if you're setting realistic expectations. Then be open with your partner about what you think your family will really need if things don't go the way you want. Examining your wants and needs along the way will help you keep your expectations realistic.
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2. Get your story straight
We all tell ourselves stories. We tell stories about what others think of us, what they want from us and the motives behind their words and actions. The problem is, we all tell stories from our own perspective. And we formulate the story for our own benefit.
When a step-child acts out, we often jump to judgement because their behavior triggers hurt or anger in us. When our partner sides with "their" kids, we make assumptions that they love those kids more than me!
In reality, we tend to stay focused on ourselves in our story telling and push for our own personal comfort. But if we want to get our story straight, we've got to focus on what blended family life is like for other members of our family.
Imagine what it might be like for a child to move back and forth every week between two parents that they love. Consider how challenging it is for your partner to meet your needs AND their kid's needs on a daily basis. Think about how painful it might be when your partner feels left out of the connection you have with your kids.
Be intentional about "getting into your family member's shoes". This will help you empathize with them and keep your stories straight. You'll understand more of why they behave the way they do — that will keep your expectations of them more realistic.
3. Focus on what you CAN control
There's a multitude of people and dynamics you cannot control in your blended family. You can't control:
- the values (or lack of values) modeled to your kid(s) in the other home
- the words or actions of your Ex
- your step-child's thoughts or attitude
- This list can go on and on.
When you spend your energy worrying over the things you can't control, you're setting yourself up for disappointment. It keeps you focused on things you wish were different, but you have no ability to actually change.
Instead, shift your energy to what you CAN control.
- the values you will model in your home
- your words and actions toward each other, your kid(s) and step-kid(s)
- your attitude even when things aren't going your way
Staying focused on the things you can control will give you influence. Over the long-haul, you'll discover that your influence can actually counter-act the negative impact of all those things you just can't control. And when you experience some wins in what you can control, you'll have more realistic expectations and reduce your disappointments.
4. Focus on imperfect progress
Progress in blended family life is never perfect progress. It is always a "two steps forward, one step back" process. Expecting your progress to be perfect — always moving forward — will definitely create disappointment.
Keep yourself focused on your desired outcomes. The hopes you have for the long-term.
Stay clear about what you want your relationships to look like when the kids are all grown and heading into adulthood. Define what you want them to say about growing up in your home. Identify what you want your marriage/partnership to look like 15 or 20 years from now.
Then move toward those goals fully expecting to experience set-backs along the journey. First families, single-parent families and step-families are all in the same boat on this one. There is no such thing as perfect progress in family life.
Expect the reality of imperfect progress and disappointments will start to disappear.
Keep Pressing Forward
The truth is you're going to face disappointments along the journey. But if you focus on needs rather than wants, keep your stories straight, control what you CAN and accept that your progress will be imperfect — you'll keep your expectations realistic, minimize disappointments and find a lot more joy in your blended family!
QUESTION: Which one of these four tips is most challenging for you? Leave a comment below…