14 May

Managing expectations in a new blended family

You came out of a bad marriage, still feeling the sting of divorce and knowing you still needed healing.  But you took some time to get your head right and ventured into the dating scene, albeit cautiously and with a healthy dose of skepticism.  And then the magic happened! You met the most incredible person and you can’t believe how fortunate you are. Your brain says take it slow, but your heart just knows this is right.  Things move faster than expected, and you start to fantasize about what your new family unit is going to look like with a healthy marriage at the core….finally!

As a psychologist specializing in marriage and family therapy, I’ve had the opportunity to work with many step/blended families over the years.  I also live in a blended family of my own, as my wife and I both had children with our previous spouses, so for me this conversion is more than just academic. I can bring some real life experience and context into the discussion.

For those of us who find an incredible partner after so much relationship pain, one of the hardest things to do is manage our expectations.  We are eager to right the wrongs of previous relationships, and it feels so great to be part of a healthy partnership. Now here’s where things often get a little tricky.  We form a vision with our soon-to-be spouse about how great the new blended family is going to be. There’s absolutely nothing wrong or unhealthy about this, but our excitement is rarely matched by the children involved.

Now don’t get me wrong, the children may seem happy and on board with the new plan.  I’m not talking about situations where the children are adamantly opposed to the new step-parent, that’s a different conversation altogether.  But our children want to please us, and they are happy that we are happy, especially after observing mom or dad being sad, angry, and hurt after the divorce (By the way, we don’t hide that stuff as well as we think we do).  So when we bring our new partner into the mix with the kids and send the not-so-subtle message that we hope they like our new partner as much as we do, most kids are generally inclined to cooperate.

And the children may very well be good with things, but it is highly unlikely they will be as invested and excited about the new plan as we are.  This isn’t a bad thing, we just need to understand this for what it is and manage our expectations effectively so the kids can adjust to these changes in their own time.  As parents we want this time frame to be weeks or months. For most kids the timeline is more realistically months and years. If you’ve been at this blended family thing for a while, you’re nodding your head right now.  If you’re newer to this scenario, you’ve just concluded I’m a cynic who clearly doesn’t understand your unique situation.

I’m blessed to be part of a successful and happy blended family.  By most standards our transition was smoother and faster than many blended families.  But I was still impatient and wanted the blend to happen faster. The truth is that our kids will get there if we are patient and allow them sufficient time.  The pace will vary depending on the child and the circumstance, but the best way to manage our expectations is to accept the fact that they need more time adjusting than we do. This is normal and absolutely fine.

Remember, most foods taste better coming out of the slow cooker than the microwave.

Dr. Mike Kragt, PhD has over 20 years of experience working as a psychologist with families at Grace Counseling. He has helped blended families work through these challenges, and knows that even in the most ideal situations, challenges can arise. He is on the side of families, and hopes to bring everyone together. To request an appointment with Dr. Mike, call (720) 489-8555.

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