A sand ceremony at a wedding represents the joining of families, it's often seen in weddings where there are kids from a previous relationship. The family usually picks colors that will blend well together and will oftentimes display this completed jar in their homes as a reminder of that blissful day. But the literal process of blending a family isn't as easy as pouring sand colors in a jar, it takes intentional focus and steps to be successful.
It is estimated that more than half of all Americans either have been or will be included in a blended family during their lifetime. Blending families can seem like a daunting task and it has the potential to negatively impact your mental health, but I’m going to share some ways to blend your family while keeping your sanity intact!
1. History Transparency
It’s important to discuss the real reason the previous relationship ended, even if it’s unsettling. Being transparent about how one arrived on this path is important, as it can have a major impact on how the new relationship will be received. If there is bitterness between the previous partners, that will flow into the new relationship, negatively impacting the ability for successful co-parenting. Being honest about the cause of the relationship ending also helps build trust with your new partner. Transparency is a win-win!
2. Meeting of the Minds
Once an honest dialogue has occurred about how the previous relationship ended, now it’s time for some introductions. Will this be uncomfortable?!... YES!, but it’s better to be uncomfortable at the beginning of the blending process than experiencing years of discomfort throughout the relationship. The meeting should include the previous partner and any new partners on both sides. Depending on the personalities of the people involved, a mediator may be necessary, but if everyone is pretty levelheaded this can be accomplished without a mediator. This is a time for everyone to get to know one another, discuss expectations for handling the children, appropriate communication, and identifying ways to handle conflict. This process allows everyone to feel heard!
3. Joint Gatherings So, you’re moving right along in your new relationship, you’re feeling good about how the meeting of the minds went but now there is a birthday party for one of the kids…what do you do?! The first few joint events will be uncomfortable, but trust me, they get easier. It’s important to show the kids unity among the households. That process can start with joint celebrations. As the kids see the parents interact in a positive way, any anxiety they feel about their parents no longer being together will ease. This will also limit the kid’s ability to play parents against each other (you’ll appreciate this as they age!). If you start the process of separate parties, it can cause confusion for the kids and create (subconscious) competition among the households. That’s not healthy for anyone involved. Decide who’s responsible for the event, who will contribute what, and have a beautifully blended celebration for the kids. As you evolve in this space, you may even find yourself hanging out together without the kids, imagine that!
4. Kid Talk Now the kids see that all the parents are on the same page, they get along, they laugh together, heck they even shared a table at the birthday party, awesome, but there’s not really been a relationship established between the kids and the additional parent. It’s imperative for the “new” parent to have their own relationship with the kids in the household. They need to feel individual love and adoration from each of the parents. This can start with understanding and/or creating common interests with the kid. Something as simple as sneaking off together to get your favorite ice cream or joining them while they play or watch a tv show will show the child your interest doesn’t solely lie with the other parent. It’s also important to establish your communication style with the kids, letting them know the boundaries for your relationship with them (if any) and allowing them a space to talk with you about things they may only want to share with you or even provide feedback about things that have been done or said that made them uncomfortable. The kids need to feel heard in this relationship as well.
5. Mind Shift
How you view your situation will impact its failure or success. Blending families requires a shift in how you think about and process things. Shifting your mind requires you to use the word “our” more heavily than you use “your”. In a blended family there will still be decisions and conversations that should reside with the original parents, however, any decisions made in that space should be shared with all parents involved. Sometimes input will be required and other times a simple “sounds good” is sufficient. It’s important to understand those boundaries and communicate them with your partner. It’s also beneficial to truly think of the children as your own, regardless of how often they are in your household, that thought process will guide word choice and decision making.
Blending families doesn’t have to be an explosive existence. Taking the 5 aforementioned areas into consideration will create a cohesive union for all parties involved and then just like that, you've become a beautiful, colorful, jar of sand that people admire when they come into your home!
Candice N. Crowley, LPC