How To Cope And Bond In A Blended Family

📌 This post is brought to you by Rebekka, author of the blog Pinecanvas. Rebekka is a blogger driven by dreams. She likes to inspire and motivate others to chase their dreams by sharing her journey in her blog.

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Coping in a Blended Family

As we addressed in a previous post, blended families are a recent form of family. This new reality can seem confusing and complicated. Both for outsides and family members. 

Once it was almost unthinkable for families to break up and start a new family. And when it did happen, it often meant that all ties were cut. The more break-up hurt parents, the less they wanted to interact with each other afterwards. The kid would stay with one parent and the other one would leave.

Times have changed a lot. We have come to understand that we shouldn’t be living together as just a facade. That hurts kids the most.

At the same time, we have realized that kids do need both parents, whether they live together or not. Parents just have to learn how to co-parent and set their personal feelings for each other aside.

Here are some important aspects you may find useful to cope and bond in a blended family.

The Whole Rollercoaster of Feelings

It’s not easy being in a blended family either as a kid or as an adult. There will be laughter and cries, jealousy and resentment. It’s a whole rollercoaster of feelings. 

Smaller kids don’t understand what’s happening, but kids don’t like changes. Bigger kids who remember their parents living together will see you as the reason why they are not so anymore. The real reason doesn’t matter. If you go out of the picture, there is a chance in their mind.

If they are acting out it’s not out of hate, although it might feel like that at times. Always remember that they are little humans who are just discovering their feelings and how to manage them. 

Give them time, and guide them to the understanding of what they are feeling and how they can approach those feelings. There isn’t only one right way. Show them options and let them decide. Kids are smarter than we think and the power of words works wonders.

Mistakes While Joining the Family

One of the most common mistakes in my eyes is to force the kid to call a stepmom or stepdad to a person they just met. “Mom” and “Dad” hold a deeper meaning for a kid. They are people who know them, who can and will help them in everything. They are meant to be a safe person they can turn to. 

The stranger who they just met isn’t capable of that. Not at first. They may want and be able to one day but not right away. I’ve always corrected everyone instantly if they force kids to call me stepmom. I’ve also told the kids they may call me by my name if they like. No matter what anyone else thinks or says. 

If someone says otherwise, send them to me, and I will deal with them myself. Only a few have come and asked why I allow the kids to call me by my name. And the answer is always simple – it’s my name. How we call each other in the family is between us to decide.

Discovering Different Visions

There is no better way to discover how similar or different your visions and beliefs are with your partner than raising kids. If you are joining a family, you have to accept their ways. Just as they have to respect your ways. These were there before you met and if you try to change them, there will be resistance.

This won’t mean you have to accept everything as it is, but if something bothers you first try to discuss it with your partner on private and neutral grounds. State your concerns about it and why you would prefer it differently. If you came to an agreement to change, let your partner talk with their kids. This goes both ways!

And yes, in a blended family the terms your/mine/our kids flow around. And even after years together, pure biology will still be a place. If there are several sets of kids it might get confusing, but there will always be certain areas where you may share your opinion. There will be others in which you can’t influence the decisions in any way because those are for parents to make. Schools, medications, and other important parts… you may not always agree, but you have to respect their choice.

Introducing the Kids

When the family includes more kids – biologically yours and his/hers – it can be harder. I would advise discussing some important parenting ways beforehand, even before you let the kids meet. I also would advise introducing kids separately with you and after that bringing in the kids. Fewer strangers at once are less stressful. After you have decided where you going to introduce them, walk through it in your mind. What is allowed/denied for yours and for his/hers?

Even as simple as ordering a drink can become a problem when one is strictly against sugar drinks or soda and the other one allows everything. Meet on neutral grounds to skip a “homecourt advantage”. In this difficult time, no one involved should feel superior to others.

All the kids should be seen and treated as equals, or as equal as possible. It’s fine if ones have more things prior, but what is allowed to them while together should be equal. This also includes if you go somewhere with a spending money option (e.g. games arcade). Agree ahead of time how much money they get, or there might be bullying of “I got more”. Every parent believes that their kid isn’t capable of bullying, but where do bullies come from?

You are not my…!

There is no antidote or vaccine for kids’ outbursts. When they say You are not my mom/dad, they are stating a fact. And that’s how it should be seen. This isn’t an argument or a reason not to respect or misbehave, it is just a fact. It may hurt, but accept it in advance.

The only slightly calming answer for that I have figured out is agreement.

No, I am not. But for now, you are here with me and I am responsible for your wellbeing. We can discuss it with your parent if you calm down. 

When they know their parent wouldn’t approve also, they don’t want to. And if they want to call and each explains their side – and accepts the outcome.

The Ex-Factor

Besides kids, there is one more big issue to deal with in the blended family. The ex. You have to accept and make peace with the fact that your partner’s ex is and will be a part of your life and sometimes has the power to blow up your plans. Kids will talk with the ex, and your partner will talk with the ex and hang out. There will be occasions where you aren’t welcome to join or even allowed.

So if you have issues with jealousy, a blended family may not suit you. Because with kids involved they have to be together and talk with each other, even if they might not like it. There are school events and family events that are at least at the beginning reserved only for them. After a few years that might or might not change. It depends too much on the people involved and their willingness to accept each other.

Preparing for the Future

I don’t think or suggest being best friends or even friends with the ex.

But it is beneficial to work out a way to be polite and communicate when needed. Because when everything works out, kids grow. In the future, there will be events like graduation, engagements, weddings, childbirths, etc. All of you want to be present. When it’s only one or another, that ruins the kid’s event. They will have to choose which one can be there and miss the other one.

In these events, if everything else fails just repeat to yourself: 

This is about the kid. Not me. Or the ex. It’s about the kid.

Be Sure and Don’t Rush into it

Being part of a blended family can enrich your life in so many ways, but it does require work, talking, and honesty. The rewards are there too though. 

When sorted out, a blended family can be a great extra security network for everyone involved. The main thing is to be sure of your relationship before bringing the kids into that relationship. 

If you rush into it and turn kids’ lives and mental balance off, just to quit after the first fight, they will be hurt too. You are not the only one who gets hurt. If they have taken you in and accepted you when you leave it may cause a permanent bump in their mental health and well-being. They often get hurt even more than adults.

Don’t rush it and be sure, that you are willing to be in it. That you can accept:

  • the differences, 
  • your partner’s past looking back to you every day, 
  • dealing with the ex,  
  • changing your plans because of someone else

Be sure you are not hurting yourself and discarding your well-being by trying to blend two different families. Also, be sure that your partner is up for all that too.

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New Reality: What You Need to Know About Blended Families

📌 This post is brought to you by Rebekka, author of the blog Pinecanvas. Rebekka is a blogger driven by dreams. She likes to inspire and motivate others to chase their dreams by sharing her journey in her blog.

In this Post:

Watch on YouTube:

You can watch this and more videos here

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Blended Families: A New Family Reality

The blended family is a rather new form of family. 

For a bystander, it might look like a really confusing way to live. One could say that people are just making their lives difficult by choice. But that isn’t always the case. No one plans to start a blended family.

Whenever two people fall in love and start a family, they at least believe it’s forever. Life changes though. Sometimes that means growing apart, and breaking up becomes the best for everyone. This doesn’t mean that people with kids should be doomed alone for the rest of their life or that falling in love again is hardly a choice. 

Once it was almost unthinkable for families to break up and start a new family. And when it did happen, it often meant that all ties were cut. The more break-up hurt parents, the less they wanted to interact with each other afterwards. The kid would stay with one parent and the other one would leave. 

Times have changed a lot. We have come to understand that we shouldn’t be living together as just a facade. That hurts kids the most. 

Kids Pick Up Tension

When a relationship changes, kids pick up on that. They can feel the tension between parents, even if they can’t put a name on it. They feel it. 

There isn’t a thing about “fighting in secret” with kids involved. Kids know. The unsettling feeling they can’t put a name on will make them act out, which ultimately will make things worse. But it’s not the kid’s fault, they don’t know better.

So talk with them, explain to them what is going on, but don’t blame anyone. Don’t make them pick a side. If you are having rough times, but trying to work it out, tell them that. 

Remind them that whatever is going on between you, you both still love them and it’s not their fault. Even if you fight about kids or parenting styles. It’s not the kids’ fault that you two disagree. Never.

Guest in a Stranger’s House

My mom and biological father split when I was little, way before I remember. So for me, he was never there. I had my mom and honestly don’t remember missing him ever. 

When my biological father started a new family, for some reason he suddenly tried to reach out to me. He had a son with a new wife and wanted us to meet. So I ended up visiting a few times.

When I visited them as a kid, I never felt like part of the family there. I felt like I was a guest in a stranger’s house. Alone. And I didn’t have a chance to text or call mom to say that I missed her and I didn’t want to be there. 

I would only count the days until I could get back home. I guess they tried, but no one knew how to explain things to pre-schoolers, and what was going on. I was glad when I got home and really happy once my mom didn’t make me go back there again. 

If they had started slower with shorter meetings so we all could get to know each other it would have been easier. I would have felt better while visiting.

Kids are programmed to love and respect their parents by nature. Either I am faulty, or this is wrong. I don’t feel guilty about it though. He was the grown up and it was his duty to get to know me and be a father. To make me feel part of his family. To make me feel that he is my father. 

He didn’t. He didn’t even bother to learn how to spell my name! As far as I know, he still hasn’t over 30 years later. I have always been proud of my name and its simple yet unique spelling. I do take it as an insult when people misspell it. It’s forgiven for acquaintances and strangers, but not for family and close friends. Sorry, not sorry.

My Home Invaded by a Stranger

My mom was a young and beautiful woman. She found a new partner. But for me as a kid, my home was invaded by a stranger who decided to play father and boss me around. 

I acted out. I showed my dissatisfaction in any way I knew and mostly got in trouble for that. At that time, I couldn’t understand why we would need another person there. We were fine! Time passed and I got a baby sister, she was so little and fragile – one of us. Now there were 3 of us and it made sense, but only us three.

A few years later came around the man I started to consider a father figure. Although the beginning wasn’t smooth, he did something different. He didn’t try to be a father from a start. He was just there and tried to get to know me. Of course, it changed over time. I got used to him and even saw the benefits of him being around. But it took time.

After a while, whenever the topic of fatherhood arose, I always thought of him. He was there when I was hurt, needed help, and struggled with my homework. He taught me to protect myself and cared enough to listen and talk with me.

And for me it didn’t matter what some paper said; he was my father.

In next week’s post, we will look deeper into how you can cope and promote bonding in this new family reality. We will look into how to address feelings, what mistakes to avoid, and how to make everyone more comfortable within the family.

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​​Empathic Skills 101: How to Avoid Toxic Positivity

Toxic Positivity is the tendency to exclusively focus on the positive. This creates the urge to deny, ignore, or reject the negative. Such an attitude can be damaging though. It reinforces the message in your subconscious mind that it is not ok to feel negative emotions.

These days, we often engage in toxic positivity without realising it or being aware of its impact. Most times, it comes down to not knowing what else to say or do.

The internet, for instance, is packed with quotes that instil toxic positivity. Although superficially harmless, they program our minds to suppress negative emotions and experiences.

Research shows that words, thoughts, and feelings impact human behaviour. Toxic language reduces people’s participation and cooperation.

Some of the negative consequences of toxic positivity include:

  • emotional alienation
  • increased stress and anxiety
  • psychosomatic diseases  

These consequences affect the way we experience ourselves and reality in general. They can also contribute to isolation and poor mental health.

On another hand, empathetic language increases understanding and sharing. Empathy is a huge pillar of healthy and effective communication. It is what differentiates toxic and healthy positivity.

Instead of dismissing negative emotions, healthy positivity embraces the whole emotional spectrum. It creates a safe space for us to share, accept, and validate our feelings.

How can we bring more empathy into our communication though?

Empathic Skills 101

The word empathy was first used in the Arts. The word was meant to describe people’s emotional reactions to artworks. The concept was then developed further in the field of Psychology.

Theodor Lipps defined it as feeling one’s way into the experience of another. This makes it easier to identify empathic skills that nurture healthy positivity.

Being empathetic means we direct our curiosity toward another person. The goal is to understand their experience from within their frame of reference.

To be able to do this, we need to:

  • recognise the emotion in the other person 
  • imagine what the person is feeling
  • seek emotional clarity 
  • validate the other person’s emotion
  • offer adequate support 

Here are three empathetic skills that can help us achieve these outcomes.

Active listening 

People tend to fall into one of two categories. They either listen to reply, or they listen to respond. In which category do you fall the most?

Those who listen to reply back only spend most of their time waiting for their turn to talk. They pay little attention to what is being said. While the other person is talking, they worry or prepare for what to say next.

Those who listen to respond spend their time actively listening. They intend to know what is being said. They are rooted in the present moment. They are confident they will know what to say when the right time comes.

Perspective-taking

From how many angles can you know what is being communicated? Some people can only understand what is being said from their perspective. Empathic understanding means you try to grasp the other person’s point of reference without forcing yours.

It is helpful to imagine what the other person might be feeling or experiencing. This does not mean, however, that you are supposed to guess exactly how another person feels.

Seek clarity and resonance by asking a few questions. You may say something like “I sense you might be feeling upset, is that correct?” or “You sound tired, is that how you are feeling?”. Imagine but don’t assume.

Cultivate safety 

Making people feel comfortable and safe to open up and share their feelings is essential. Being present and considerate is halfway to creating safety.

Another key factor is acceptance. You may not agree with how someone is feeling but you can not deny, reject, or dismiss their experience. Invalidating someone’s emotions is abusive.

As much as we try someone’s shoes, it is virtually impossible to relive their experience. All we can do is offer a safe space, where we can hear, see, and care about them.

Nurturing Empathy Through Mindfulness 

Presence is likely one of the most important psychological qualities. We can cultivate it through mindfulness. Mindfulness is the ability to remain fully focused on the present moment.

Evidence suggests mindfulness creates room for empathy. When we are fully present, it is easier to listen actively. It also facilitates perspective-taking and feeling another person’s feelings.

With this said, mindfulness can prevent toxic communication patterns. Here are five mindful attitudes to help you avoid toxic positivity.

Acceptance 

Accepting others’ emotional experiences does not mean you agree with them. It does not mean you agree with their interpretation of events. Accepting means you hold the space for the other person to safely share what they are feeling.

You put your perspective aside for a moment so that you can listen and understand theirs. This prevents you from being dismissive. It also helps you to be closer to the other person.

Patience

Toxic positivity is ruthless. It is often a quick band-aid to prevent emotional investment and contagion. However, empathy requires patience and presence.

By being patient toward the other person’s rhythm of communication, you nurture them. You generate and offer them a safe space to share.

Non-judging 

Reacting or forcing another person to change how they feel is counterproductive. We may want to help, but we must fully understand the other person’s perspective and narrative.

When we are quick to judge or make another feel bad for feeling upset, we promote distance and isolation. Non-judgment might be the hardest attitude to embrace but it’s key in empathetic communication.

Trust

Empathetic communication requires a certain dose of vulnerability and courage. There are moments and situations in which we may feel emotionally overwhelmed.

It is important to build on your capacity to be emotionally responsive. You don’t need to know what to say or do beforehand. Trust that when the moment comes you will.

Non-striving

This attitude ties in with trust. By trusting in your empathetic skills, you let go of the need to do or be right all the time. You also let go of the need to control the conversation.

Non-striving means you choose to be aware and fully present in the dialogue. You prevent yourself from engaging in any activity that is manipulative or controlling.

Final Thoughts

Empathy is one of the best gifts we can offer to someone. Being the space holder for another person’s emotions is not always easy though. Sometimes we run out of words or don’t know what to do.

Toxic Positivity has increased in our social circles. Whether people are less empathic or lack emotional maturity is not clear. However, we know that empathy is positively associated with increased pro-social behaviour.

Nurturing empathic skills can benefit us a great deal and our collective evolution. Learning and developing the practice of mindfulness is a possible route.

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