His, Mine and Ours
As a mom of four kiddos, ages three to 23 (yes, I still get to call them kiddos, even when they’re grown), I’ve learned a thing or two about navigating the intricacies of a blended family. The irony is, people assume our youngest was an “oops” because of the 20-year-gap between her and our oldest, but alas, we were crazy enough to actually plan for her.
See, my husband and I are a “his, mine, and ours” kind of family. When we were married, he had two older sons from his previous marriage, and I had one older daughter from a previous relationship myself. Fast-forward a few years and we decided one more tiny human shared together would complete our family package.
With that decision came a lot of “fun” comments from others who see us when we’re out and about. Most assume our youngest is the daughter of one of our older kids rather than their sibling (they loved that one as teens, let me tell you). We’ve had neighbors (who even saw me pregnant) assume that my husband was the youngest’s grandfather. That one really makes me question the judgement of our neighbors. If I gave birth to my husband’s grandchild, what does that make me? Don’t answer that. I don’t even want to know what they were thinking.
Adding to the fun, we used to send our oldest daughter to the store to buy diapers when the youngest was first born – she was 17 at the time and would come home full of teenage melodrama about the “judgy” looks she got at the store.
All of that aside, we realize our life doesn’t fit into any traditional family “mold,” but it’s also not all that uncommon. Millions of families find themselves navigating the sometimes-turbulent waters of blended families. So much so, that many have asked us “how do you do it?”
Apparently, being crazy enough to start over with 20 years between our oldest and youngest makes me some form of expert in the area. I am not. Not even close. But I do have a few pieces of advice (taken with a grain of salt) for those who find themselves in the mix of a blended family.
1. Work Together
While it isn’t always possible, the absolute best thing for smooth sailing is working together with the other parents. I know – sometimes that’s much easier said than done – but if you can set some basic guidelines to keep things consistent between households and let the kids see you’re all on the same page, you’ll cut out potential issues down the road.
Trust me – kiddos are amazing individuals, but sometimes, especially in the adolescent phase, they will pit you against each other if it means getting out of trouble. At least ours have – maybe yours are angels.
2. Make Time to Spend Time
It’s important to let kids have their own space within the home and some privacy to enjoy it, but it’s also equally important to actually spend time together. That may sound silly, but the more you interact, the easier it gets to interact.
We had a “no phones at the dinner table” rule to open communication and would spend one day over the weekend doing something together – even if that was heading to a cheer competition or drama club presentation as a family. If one went, we all went. No exceptions. #LetsBondBaby
3. Encourage Sibling Bonding
Another key to happiness is letting the kids bond. With the older kids, that meant some video game time or letting them tag along with each other to trips to the movies or snow tubing or whatever they’re doing with friends that day.
It also meant letting them complain about us to each other – that was a big one. It’s tough to hear, but when kids understand they have a common “gripe,” they bond.
With the younger one, it was simply a matter of asking the older kids to share in some of the responsibility of taking care of her. No, she wasn’t their child, but learning the ins and outs of diaper changes, bath times, feeding schedules and naps helped them to gain a strong bond with her (and she now adores them all because of it too), and it also helps them to feel included in the daily family life.
4. Dish Out the Chores
Going along with the bonding tip above, another one that will really help (even though they’ll complain to the high heavens and back), is giving out chores. The kids need to know that they all have their important roles and responsibilities within the family unit. They may not like it, and sometimes it’s tough telling a child you only see every other weekend that they have to do chores when they come over, but it’s crucial to making sure they learn they are part of the household, too.
We even started our youngest on helping with chores at 3 years old – the older kids who are still in the house (the oldest is on his own now) will have her help switch laundry and put away some of the lower-level dishes from the dishwasher. It all helps them bond. And bonus? Free child labor! I’m kidding. Sort of.
Above all, what makes a blended family work is the people who are involved in it. Keeping things consistent and giving ample opportunities to bond – both as parent/child and between children – are the biggest game players in terms of keeping a harmonious house.
In the end, the best thing you can do is to make sure the kids know you love them as your own (they are, despite genetics), and also that you won’t take any crap from them. That’s the secret.
Jamie is a married mother of four – two girls and two boys – ages 3 to 22. With 19 years between her oldest and youngest, she writes to keep her sanity in check with a healthy dose of therapeutic humor injected for good measure. She is a children’s book author and full-time mommy blogger for her site, Momma Juice and regularly guest blogs for other sites.