Tags: In This Issue, Home & Food, Infant & Baby, Kids, Parenting, Preschool, Toddler, Tweens & Teens
Honoring the Blended Family
September 01, 2010You've found someone you want to spend the rest of your life with. You or that special someone have already started the adventure of Parenting and therefore are merging more lives than your own as you plan to get married.
According to the recent National Vital Statistics Report, one of three Americans is now a stepparent, a stepchild, a stepsibling, or some other member of a blended family. More than half of Americans today have been, are now or will eventually be in one or more step situations during their lives. Now in 2010, blended families are projected be the predominant family form in the U.S.; there is a pattern of success for blended families that has an astonishing 84 percent success rate.
Putting your marriage first is the best way to begin a new chapter together. Discussing the sensitive needs of the children and committing to over-communicating with each other about the heart-felt details of what your new life will be like between yourself and your child's "other" parent are at the forefront of every blended family. It is critical to maintain trust, confidence and a sense of compassion for everyone involved, beginning the day you start dating through the engagement and marriage.
Talking points when things get serious
Single parents, along with their children, have often endured emotional damages that created a bond between them few can understand. When a new adult with intimate relationships with the family becomes involved, children need to be nurtured and communicated with – at their level –and have their questions answered accurately and respectfully. It is a tragedy to merely assume your child understands your feelings for this new person in your lives and what's transpiring between you and your future spouse.
"The child did not choose this scenario, so however this plays out, each child needs to be responded to differently because their needs are different," said Chad Sudsberry, licensed mental health counselor and attachment specialist, with offices in Avon and Indianapolis.
How you connect with your child is a unique as they are. When they are ready to talk about heart-felt issues is something only parents can tune into and with the gravity of merging families, one has to be ready every moment of every day.
"Universal play time is more specifically setting time aside for the parent and child to have time to talk and play. Adolescents do hit and miss communication, meaning they wait until the parent is not paying attention to spring something on them as opposed to the parent pursuing the child to create an avenue for them to have dialogue," said Sudsberry. "Just because you decide to get married, doesn't mean your child doesn't have needs, so including them in the decision is helpful. As parents, you have to know what makes the child feel special or let them feel how they want—even if they aren't into wedding plans. Meet them where they are not where we want them to be."
Moving forward as a family
Even with the distractions of wedding planning, at least one of the betrothed has to be the roots of the family – focusing on the future, the big picture, life after the big day. With this, the couple can keep the routines and normalcy of their family lives intact while being aware of the emotional needs of the child and each other.
"One of the main challenges that everyone in the family has to deal with for the wedding and years to come is loyalty issues. Children will be wondering where your loyalty lies – with me or the new boyfriend or girlfriend and they will test that and want varying degrees of assurance. They feel they have lost one parent already and now they are aware that the other has found a new adult to share their life with so they may wonder, will they lose this parent too," said Dr. David Chaddock, director of Center Point Counseling, Indianapolis. "Their question may be, what does this new merger mean; while the parent is excited, hopeful about their new love and the future. Parents want the Kids to be hopeful and optimistic, too, and hopefully they will be, depending on how they've handled the courtship and how long ago the divorce or separation has been. Conflicting loyalty issues are the major cause for divorces in second marriages."
The wedding and events leading up to
Consider thinking through to what you want your child to be exposed. Have conversations about the implications of marriage both spiritually and legally. In detail, describe what events will take place before the wedding day, who will be around the family and for how long. With a joyful spirit, describe the exciting times ahead for the child or children and the happiness and potential challenges that come from being a new family.
Being a part of the wedding planning or wedding party includes a lot of fun and responsibility and potentially being around some mature situations. Think carefully what you promise your child when discussing how they can participate in the events leading up to the wedding, whether standing up with the couple or choosing the type of cake you'll eat.
Younger children can take simpler roles including flower girl or ring bearer. At this age, it's important to find someone to care for the child during the day or week of festivities while the bride and groom are otherwise occupied.
"Flower girls and ring bearer should at least be four years-old and no older than 10. Kids who are 10 and older are perfect junior bridesmaids and junior groomsmen. Ushers, guest book and program attendant should at least be 13 years old. To keep focus on the couple and not the children, have them go and sit down during the ceremony," said Darcie Kornmeyer, vice president of Circle City Planners.
On the wedding day, the new spouse may want to make a vow of commitment to the children as a part of the ceremony. The couple should first exchange vows to each other then the children can be asked to join the couple, if this is something of interest. Sharing promises for the new family can be symbolized with a special gift or tangible reminder of the vow – a necklace, family medallion or other gift that will last a lifetime.
"As for the honeymoon, I've heard of families having the kids' document or video their experiences everyday while the newlyweds are on their honeymoon. And have the bride and groom do the same. Then compare the videos at the end of trip," said Kornmeyer.
This person, with whom you share values, inspires you to grow personally and professionally, makes you laugh, carries your burdens and holds your hand through controversy and triumphs will do the same for the children in your life. The couple commits to love each other on their wedding day and love the children in your lives as their own as you enter into your next happily ever after.
Nikki Keever is a freelance writer living in Noblesville, Indiana with her husband, stepfather to her son and father of their two children.