It’s been long said that expectation is the enemy of joy. That should be the mantra of your blended family, especially in the critical first year or two. Paint it on your walls, write it on a sticky note on your desk, needlepoint it on a throw pillow…do whatever you need to do to keep this saying in front of you at all times. It’s crazy how much stress and anxiety you can save yourself as you blend your family if you simply remember those six little words: expectation is the enemy of joy. Or as Scott likes to say, “death by expectation.”
Many couples enter a new marriage with unrealistic expectations about how quickly and easily their children will adjust to all the changes. New home, new parent, new siblings. Maybe a new town, new school, new friends, new pet. New dynamic in the home. New person or people with whom you have to “share” your mom or dad. New concerns about what your other biological parent feels about you having a new stepparent. It’s a lot, especially for a child, and their transition will almost always be anything but quick.
That’s okay, your marriage isn’t a flash in the pan; you’re in this for the long haul, and that means your children are as well. You’ve got plenty of time to make this work. Remember, slow and steady wins the race. Or, as Galatians 6:9 says, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” Your blended family relationship isn’t a sprint; you’re running a marathon; you’re doing it as a team. The first step is to lay down any expectations you might have about what those relationships are going to look like and how quickly it’s going to happen. Forcing it or running at a faster pace than desired will leave you feeling defeated, exhausted, and depleted. The best you can do is ensure you’re creating a safe, secure atmosphere in which healthy parent and sibling relationships can flourish… and then wait. Relationships happen organically. Trying to force things to happen too prematurely can change the character of the relationship and the blessings the Lord wants to do in it.
Of course, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some things you can do to create the best possible conditions for new relationships to develop. Let’s look at a few things that helped the families we interviewed throughout the project.
Put the “Fun” in “Dysfunctional”
The Lord is going to walk your family through some amazing mountaintop experiences and some seasons in a dry valley. Every family, blended or not, goes through seasons (Ecclesiastes 3:1). Even the best, most loving, and healthiest families have some level of dysfunction. Things simply won’t be perfect all the time. You know that’s true in your marriage, and it isn’t different for your family as a whole. Building relationships takes time under the best of circumstances and throwing kids in the mix — especially kids who don’t really know each other yet — doesn’t exactly make things easier! So we encourage you to find ways to put the fun in dysfunctional moments.
As we said earlier, kids like to build relationships around fun activities and time. That’s honestly not much different than how we do it as adults. Think about your relationship with your spouse, for example. Arranged marriages notwithstanding, you probably didn’t meet one day and get married the next. No, adults take time to build a strong relational foundation. And how do we spend that time? Dating! We see movies, go hiking, share meals, take vacations, ride rollercoasters, attend sporting events, and enjoy whatever other common interests we have. As we spend that time having fun together, we get to know each other. Ultimately, we fall in love. Why should things be any different for our children?
We were lucky in a way because Michael was our only child when we got married. The three of us had time to connect before Shay, our second, came along. That also meant Michael didn’t have to immediately “blend” with another child from day one. Instead, he got to enjoy our pregnancy right along with us, getting more and more excited about becoming a big brother. Of course, Shay and our other two boys were born with Michael already there, so they’ve never known a time when Michael wasn’t their big brother. As a result, we never had to help our children immediately blend with other kids. It just happened naturally.
“Be patient and guard your heart (open ears, quick to listen, and slow to anger—James 1:19). It’s okay for it to feel a little bit different.” – Marcus & Sara, A Blended Kingdom Family
Scott and Vanessa Martindale founded Blended Kingdom Families in 2020 in obedience to the calling that Vanessa received from God to minister to blended families. Through faith and radical obedience, they have partnered with God to help spread the Gospel into all blended family homes and equip the church to better serve blended families. The Martindales are a blended family themselves, and they know the struggles that come with the blending process. Their new book Blended & Redeemed released September 13, 2022.