As part of our Blended Family Friday series, each week we're spotlighting a different stepfamily to learn how they successfully blended their two families. Our hope is that by telling their stories, we'll bring you closer to blended family bliss in your own life!
Want to know real stress? Get married, have kids, then get divorced and settle down with someone with kids of their own. From conflicts in custody agreements to vindictive former spouses edging their way into household drama, there's no shortage of stress in the lives of blended family parents.
So what can stepparents do to reduce some of the tension in their lives? Below, we look back at some of the best advice the parents in our Blended Family Friday series have shared with us in the past. See what they had to say, then head to the comments and add your best advice on beating stress in a blended family.
1. Figure out a co-parenting plan with your spouse early on.
Parenting someone else's kids is not easy -- and those first few years are usually the toughest. That said, the road to peaceful relations with your new stepkid will be a lot less rocky if you and your spouse are able to come to an agreement on how you'll parent, including who will be in charge of discipling.
Stepmom Janice Bissell figured this out with her husband early on in their marriage."[My husband] gave me fairly free reign on structure and discipline for his youngest, CJ, and he always backed me up."
On bigger issues with her stepkids, though, Bissell said her husband is the decider -- and she's fine with that. "I've also learned to give up control, which has been so hard, but ultimately a very good and necessary thing for our family," she said.
2. When you start to feel overwhelmed, take it one hurdle at a time.
Husband and wife team Jennifer and Jason said they handle stress the same way any non-blended family would. The only difference? The stress that comes their way includes "slow family courts, pricey parenting coordinators and difficult exes."
So how do they deal? "Stress is stress. We eat the elephant one bite at a time like everybody else," Jennifer said. "We keep an open forum for communication across the board and spend a great deal of time being together so our bond is strong and valuable. No matter how stressful any of our situations become, we never lose sight of our main goal, which is to experience joy."
3. See your family -- including the exes -- as a team.
Having an "us against them" mentality is the best way to sabotage your attempts to blend your family or get along with your ex, said Prentiss Earl, a father of two who's still close with his ex-wife and her new family.
"I'd argue that our situation was more stressful when we maintained a separatist attitude with our individual households," he told us. "I don't feel family-related stress as much as I used to because of the way we've come together as a team."
4. Invest in a chore chart.
If you want to see chores actually get done in your home, it's time to buy a big white chore board, said stepmom Raiye Rosado. "Use a chore chart, for the love of all that's good in the world. Seriously, it changed everything."
Photo credit: Raiye Rosado
5. Remind yourself to celebrate even the smallest of victories.
Your oldest and youngest bond while building a pillow fort. You and your wife managed to coordinate your custody agreements so you could plan a mini vacation in the fall. Small wins like this are worth celebrating, said blended family mom Andi Parker-Kimbrough. "Live one day at a time (or one moment if you have to)," she said. "Blend little by little and celebrate even the smallest breakthrough."
6. Whatever you do, don't aim for perfection.
No nuclear family is perfect, so why should any blended family strive to be? Our reader Kellee Mulkerin-Ford told us that the first step in making progress as a blended family is to lower your expectations a bit. "Stop thinking that things are going to be perfect. It's not going to happen," she said. "The kids will not get along all the time, the house will be not always be quiet, you will not always hear 'please' and 'thank you.'"
Instead, she recommended that parents take a more sensible approach to blending. "What is realistic is taking stock of how incredibly lucky you are to have more children to love and to guide."
If you'd like your own family to be featured on Blended Family Friday, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We're looking forward to hearing your story!