Blended families—families in which one or both spouses have at least one child from a previous relationship—come with their own unique challenges and opportunities. If you are starting a blended family, it is helpful to have an idea of what you can expect. Having realistic expectations is important for any marriage; it can help you avoid the feelings of frustration, anxiety, or disappointment that can come from not having your expectations met. “Hope deferred makes a heart sick,” but if you know what to hope for and when to expect it, having that “desire fulfilled is a tree of life” (Proverbs 13:12).
To help you set realistic expectations for your blended family, here are some insights from those who have gone before you, including the experiences of other blended families at Watermark. Some of these ideas also come from Ron Deal’s Smart Stepfamily series, which can be helpful if you want to go more in-depth; you can find his books, videos, and other resources on the Smart Stepfamily website.
It Takes Time
One of the big sources of missed expectations in blended families relates to timing. When you get married, your family will not immediately be “blended” into one cohesive unit, like ingredients in a blender. Instead, it is more like a Crockpot slow cooker. It takes time for everyone in the family to adjust to their new roles and the new reality of being a family together. And we mean a lot of time: on average, it takes an estimated five to seven years for everyone to bond. Some are fortunate enough to see bonds forming rather quickly, but others take longer. And if you have a situation where you don’t spend much time together—for example, adult stepchildren who live out of town—it is possible that some family members may never fully bond.
That might sound discouraging up front, but it can be an encouraging thing to know as you navigate those first few years of your marriage. By understanding that family bonding takes time, you can adjust your approach and not rush the process. You won’t push people to adapt more quickly than they are comfortable with. You also won’t worry that something is wrong just because it is taking a while for everyone to bond. Just be patient and look for opportunities to connect with one another.
Trust God with the process (Proverbs 3:5-6). He could change hearts or minds more quickly and indeed might do so with some members of your family. But when it takes longer, know that God can work through that, too (Romans 8:28).
There’s a Lot to Learn
One of the reasons why it takes a while to “blend” is because everyone must learn how to relate to each other and work together as a new family. Each person and each family is different, so having experience doesn’t necessarily mean you are an expert. Being previously married doesn’t make you an expert at being married to your new spouse, and having experience as a parent doesn’t make you an expert at being a stepparent.
Similarly, feeling romantic love toward your new spouse doesn’t automatically solve all your problems. Just because you fall in love with someone doesn’t mean that your children will also love that person (or feel love for them as quickly as you do). And being in love as a couple doesn’t mean you know how to live together as a family. Don’t expect everything to be easy; it will take some time and effort to build relationships and learn how to be a cohesive family.
Common Pitfalls for Blended Families
While all families have difficulties to work through, blended families often face additional challenges. Part of having realistic expectations means being aware of the pitfalls you are more likely to encounter. These can include:
- Setting appropriate boundaries with ex-spouses, grandparents, and other family members.
- Sharing custody of children with exes and managing their visitation schedules.
- Financial complications due to child support or estate matters.
- Dealing with loss and grief in both children and adults.
- Combining family traditions and balancing different holiday schedules.
These complications can be stressful and cause strain in your new marriage. It is important that you work through them together as a team. Avoid the temptation to isolate and handle them by yourself without involving your spouse. Instead, use these challenges as an opportunity to build unity in your marriage.
Rewards to Expect
Blended families may have their hardships, but don’t get the impression that it is all work with no rewards. There are many positives that can come from it. You can build a healthy family together. Your kids can grow up in a happy home with parents who love them and love each other. God can redeem any story and create something beautiful. Although it might not happen automatically or overnight, know that the rewards are worth it.
To get a full picture of what to expect, you can email us to get connected with a more experienced mentor couple. Watermark has a team of blended family couples who know what you are walking through and are here to help. We can also connect you with other families in a community group so you don’t have to navigate these questions and challenges alone. To learn more, please contact us.