Q: After spending four years in a difficult marriage and another three years helping raise our two children (we have joint custody), I have finally met a woman who has sparked a romantic interest in me. She is great.
We are dating at the moment, but both of us would like to change that. We are talking about spending the rest of our lives together. But we are also a little nervous.
We have heard of the many nightmares that come with blending families. Obviously we would like to avoid them. We just want what is best for her two children as well as for mine. Any suggestions?
A: I am not sure that blending families means necessarily engaging in an arm wrestle with nightmares, but as with any challenge in life, the more that both you and your girlfriend prepare your families before you get together, the better are your chances of resolving whatever difficulties you will have adjusting your families to each other.
Before combining your families under one roof, try to encourage everyone to spend as much time together as possible. Driving into town to pick up a few groceries might be boring for all four of your kids, but it does more for helping them bond with each other than do trips to Disney World or other exotic places. The point is that time spent together in mundane, everyday activities is the foundation from which family relationships develop.
One of you, either you or your girlfriend, is likely more strict with the children than is the other one. While you may not always agree with each other, you should try to co-ordinate the basic structure of your homes so that you have similar bedtimes, meal times, quiet times and special family activities.
If you can get the structures going before you move in together, you can cut down on the dissension between you and your girlfriend that comes when newly wed parents try to figure out bedtimes. You will spare your children the insecurity that comes when their adult care givers are arguing with each other.
And give yourselves and your children time to make this thing happen. No one is likely to jump into significant connections with either you, your girlfriend or each other for a long time. Building blended families can take two to five years. A number of blended families get into trouble by expecting to be that “great, big, happy family” long before everyone is prepared to make the concessions to each other they need to make it happen. Patience with and for everyone is fundamental to successful family blending.
Finally, I would like to suggest that you look up blended families in the search engines on your computers, and do that before the two of you get your families together.
You can learn a lot by talking to each other about what you have found to be the experiences of other families. They are worth noting.
Jacklin Andrews is a family counsellor from Saskatchewan. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.