What's the BEST Way to 'Blend' and Build Step Family Bonds?
Mike and I recently surveyed people currently living in a blended family. Here's the question we asked:
…If we were to create a specific resource or product on one of the following topics…which of the following are you most likely to sign up for?:
- Communication within our blended family
- Effective step-parenting strategies
- Co-parenting with a difficult Ex
- "Blending" in a way that builds strong bonds
Any guesses about which topic was picked the most? It was overwhelmingly #4! That was no surprise to us. We often hear from step-couples about their concerns around healthy bonding. Step-couples are often unsure about how to "Blend" the right way so that strong bonds will develop.
The truth is, blended (or step) families are different than first families. This is simply because kids are part of the stepfamily's structure from the beginning. Each child (and adult) comes with unique experiences and connections that exist outside the stepfamily's formation. Due to these complex dynamics, 'blending' a family seems to produce various challenges — for everyone.
The research shows that it takes an average of 7 years for a stepfamily to function together effectively. Many step-couples experience disillusion - they feel disappointed when they hear this statistic. But here's some good news: this reality doesn't have to lead to disappointment. You can learn how to integrate in healthy ways that will naturally build thriving family bonds. And you can start today!
The Best Way to "Cook" a Stepfamily
In his book The Smart Stepfamily, Ron Deal explores 4 kitchen appliances to discover the best way to "Cook" a stepfamily. Let's take a look:
1. The Blender. When attempting to blend a stepfamily, the ingredients (family members) are mixed together at a rapid speed. Often, this will happen without considering the unique aspects of each individual. The mentality is to create or "whip up" a new and improved family.
The 'blending' stepfamily will unintentionally chop up one another's past, histories and traditions in an attempt to blend everyone all together. However, this also chops up the individuals that still feel connection to those meaningful things.
The misguided mindset from the Blender is this: "We'll simply leave the past behind".
Unfortunately, this isn't as simple as they believe it should be. As Ron says, "Someone usually ends up getting creamed in the process!"
2. 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 insensitive message kids get from the Pressure Cooker is this: "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 unnecessary stress and pressure since expectations are so high and often inappropriate. In a 'Pressure Cooker' environment, the lid often blows right off the pot.
3. The Microwave. These stepfamilies will seek to instantly heat up the ingredients with high expectations. Microwave stepfamilies often refuse to be defined or self-identify as a stepfamily. They choose to disregard 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.
The unrealistic expectations of a Microwave approach is this: Everything and everyone will operate just like a 'nuclear' or first family. But watch out…things are about to explode!
4. The Crock Pot: With this integration style, the same ingredients are thrown together into the same pot, but each is left intact. Crock Pot families acknowledge and affirm the unique origins and characteristics of each individual family member. Stepfamilies choosing the crock pot style of integration understand that time and low heat make for an effective combination.
The attainable goal with Crock Pot integration is this: LOW and SLOW leads to BIG WINS!
There is no way around it — healthy integration and building strong bonds is going to take 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 gently ease into stepfamily life with less confusion and stress. They're given the time they need to adapt to all the changes so they can eventually come to a place of acceptance. Every child in the stepfamily will most likely move at a different pace — and that's okay.
It's common when step-couples first come together to be excited about merging and quickly becoming one big happy family. That sounds reasonable, right? Mike and I call this 'The Brady Bunch Delusion'.
In reality, when stepfamilies attempt to 'blend' their complex dynamics — the people, routines and backgrounds — they often run into problems. And that's when disappointment sets in.
If you want to embrace the Crockpot strategy, build healthy bonds and minimize disappointments, you must continually examine and adjust your expectations.
Expect that problems will arise — it's inevitable. Accept that things aren't going as smoothly as you anticipated. Bumps in the road will be part of your 'new normal'.
But if you continue to grow and learn healthy bonding strategies, your disappointments won't become setbacks. They'll be a launch pad of new discoveries that'll keep your family moving forward.
Build at Your Own Pace
We've seen how step-couples who embrace the LOW and SLOW strategy experience a sense of relief and freedom. They can just relax, enjoy time with their family and let go of the pressuring messages and high expectations.
Don't fall for the 'Brady Bunch Delusion'. Don't worry about the statistics or how other stepfamilies are blending. Discover the best pace for YOUR Crock Pot so that family bonds can beautifully and gradually build!
QUESTION: What unrealistic expectations do you have that you need to let go of? Leave a comment below…