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How to Build a Strong Blended Family

3 practical ideas for stepmoms

This week I had coffee with Kathi and was encouraged by her stories of being a stepmom. You can listen to our conversation here! —Juli

While “intact” families usually have a little time between the wedding night and the arrival of the first kiddo, blended families have a reverse timetable: we have all the kids with none of the alone time. Our “getting to know each other” happens in the midst of disciplining and organizing—and bathrooms that smell like cages at the local zoo.

But then we get to really look forward to the chance that we get to be alone for long stretches after the kids move out. While other moms are openly weeping as their babies drive off to college, I will kiss that last kid goodbye, dry the tear from my eye, and then promptly start making out with my husband on the living room couch!

Couple Time Is Not a Luxury; It’s Necessary for Survival

When Roger and I were first married, we found that the best time for us to connect was at lunchtime. We would each drive about halfway (around ten minutes) and have our alone dates at a Mexican restaurant or at a food truck at the park.

Another stepmom I know, Casey, makes sure that her travel for work never overlaps with the weekends her stepkids spend with their mom. If she has to travel, she does her best to make sure it’s a time when her husband and the boys can be together. They go car camping or just go to their weekend games and then hang out afterward and watch boy movies. The boys appreciate having their dad to themselves, and Casey loves knowing that next weekend she gets her husband to herself.

How can you and your man get some alone time? Is there another blended family you can swap some babysitting with? Can you schedule a playdate or sleepover with all of your kids on the same night? Can you invite another couple over and put all the kids down so you can have some grown-up time? Can you plan babysitting into your weekly budget? After all the kids have gone to bed (or the older kids are settled for the night), can you set some time aside just for you and your husband?

Here are a few ideas:

• Curl up on the couch with your spouse and watch a favorite movie together (or just part of the movie each night over several nights).

• Have ice cream outside under the stars.

• Dance in your living room.

• Play a board game at the kitchen table.

• Go for a long walk (if you have older kids).

Here are some other marriage enhancing things you can do today to make life better for everyone in your home:

1. Find Some Blended-Family Mentors

I wish (oh, how I wish) Roger and I had found mentors in the stepparenting area sooner rather than later. Not just for the sake of our kids but for the sake of our marriage.

If your church doesn’t have a blended-family support group, then find another place that does. (In every group I’ve ever been to, they have been open to couples coming from other churches.) If you can’t find a group, then start asking around at your own church. Find a family who has been doing this longer than you have and ask them out to coffee or dinner. These people are your shortcut to a better marriage. When you confess that you’ve fought over the silliest things (carpool schedules, the kids’ toothbrush habits, and so on), they will get it and possibly be able to top your silliest of arguments with some of their own.

There is real value in the blended-family world in being able to say, “Me, too!” or better yet, “Us, too!”

2. Marital Check-Ins Are Critical

Check in with each other. Do it causally and have a plan for it. Roger and I have our once-a-week check-ins to go over schedules, talk about the kids, and more. But we also check in with each other to see how we’re doing.

When Ben Affleck thanked his wife, Jennifer Garner, in his acceptance speech for winning Best Picture at the Oscars, he said, “I want to thank you for working on our marriage for ten Christmases.” Affleck said to Garner from the stage, “It’s good. It is work, but it’s the best kind of work. And there’s no one I’d rather work with.”

And do you know what happened all over the Twitterverse? They blasted him.

“How can he say marriage is hard?”

“Boy, I bet he’s in trouble tonight!”

“No one wants the world to know that their marriage is work!”

Really? Because who didn’t get that memo? Marriage is hard. And the more we can admit it and be humble in our need for a loving God and a loving spouse, the better chance we have for this hard work to pay off.

3. Honor Your Husband’s Kids

You may think this is a piece of stepparenting advice, but really it’s one of the most important pieces of marital advice I could give you. Treat his kids with kindness and respect at all costs.

This doesn’t mean that you never set boundaries for your stepchildren or firmly remind them of the rules. What it does mean is that they are his kids, and you are in a role of supporting all of them in their relationships.

I know that I spent a lot of time trying to fit my stepkids into the mold I thought they should be in. I thought they needed to accept me, respect me, and love me. Then I realized that none of that was true. They did need to act accepting and respectful, but how they felt had to be developed over time. I couldn’t force them, and I couldn’t whine enough to Roger to make it happen. Stepfamilies meld at their own pace. We are the slow cookers of families. Trying to microwave the process only leaves everyone with a bad taste in their mouths.

When a man’s kids are under attack, he can’t help but want to come to their defense, even if the “attacker” is the woman he’s promised to spend his whole life with. If your husband is constantly having to divide his loyalties, it’s going to put a strain on your marriage, on him, and on you.

The last thing I want is for you and your husband to ever be on opposite sides of an argument when it comes to his kids. After several years, I finally learned how to approach Roger about these things. The best sample script I can share with you is this: “Roger, I want to have a great relationship with ________________. Here is what I’m struggling with right now: ________________. How do you think I should approach the situation?”

This statement accomplishes several things:

1. It immediately reminds my husband that I love his child.

2. It puts Roger and me on the same side of the situation.

3. It lets me share the issue with Roger without him feeling attacked.

4. It shows my husband I respect his opinion when it comes to his kids.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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