Don and I met on my first day of work at a doctor’s office. It was his first time visiting. We chatted while I took his vital signs, and on his way out he asked for my phone number. After dating for a few months, we knew we wanted to marry. Thus began our journey as a blended family. Today, Don and I are married with three children: Gabi, 26, from my previous relationship (she was seven when we got married); and our two biological children, Donielle, 17, whom we call ‘Doni,’ and Jakim, 15.
Many people ask, “How did you make your blended family work?” With so much divorce in our society, I can see how this perplexes folks. And let me tell you, it hasn’t always been easy or simple. Neither Don, nor I, had been married before, and Don didn’t have any previous children or parenting experience, so there were multiple learning curves going on. Many times I felt like pulling my hair out from frustration. But we stuck with it, and we’ve made it work. My prayer is that these five tips will help you or a loved one blend your own family successfully.
Tip Number One: Pray
I am so serious about this.
Bringing children and a spouse together is a totally different dynamic that can make or break a new marriage.
Gabi and Don had issues at first. When Gabi would get in trouble in school, Don was super hard on her. He wanted her to excel. He always said how he wasn’t raised by both parents and that they did not encourage him to do well in school or in life. I hated that she did not feel close to him initially in our marriage, and the fact that we had a new baby within the first year was tough, too. Don was totally engrossed in our new child, and Gabi was kind of left on the back burner. I don’t think he did it intentionally or even realized he was doing it; he was simply in love with his firstborn, and that took precedence over Gabi. But, I was too nervous to share that was my view of their relationship –– so, at this point, I’m not communicating. All of this is hard on a marriage.
I prayed so many times for God to give me directions on how to keep my mind stayed on Him and how to keep my cool. But even how I heeded the answers to my prayers was a learning curve. Listening to God had never been my strong suit until my back was up against the wall and I had no choice but to surrender. I have never been a patient person, and in the midst of it all, I really was not trying to hear God. But when I did, I was reminded to let trying to control their relationship go. And when I finally released the reins, it happened organically.
These long stretches of instances where I had to literally sit it out and wait on God to do his thing have been pivotal to my growth as a woman, wife, and mother. If you don’t have a prayer life, I would suggest starting today. “Look, God, I need your help,” is how my prayers always started, and they were always answered. And, I have learned, I am responsible for what I do with that answer.
Tip Number Two: Adjust
At first, I did not want Don to discipline Gabi. This caused so much anger and frustration at the beginning of our marriage. But God has a sense of humor because I found myself on pregnancy bed-rest seven months into our marriage. So, guess who had to do everything? Don did! That included disciplining Gabi. Once I made that adjustment and trusted him to love her, the arguments in that area stopped. We had other areas to overcome, but we both had to agree to do what was best for not only Gabi but also for the two children we created.
Tip Number Three: Replace Force with Flow
We had to be okay with some things and not try to force it.
I wanted to change Gabi’s last name to Barnett for the longest time. Every time we tried, something would happen: We couldn’t find Gabi’s biological father because he was in jail; then, he would not agree to sign the papers for Gabi to change her last name; then he would agree, but change his mind when it was time to file; then, when Gabi got a little older, she decided she did not want her name changed. Once I got over this thing that I wanted so badly, it didn’t matter. The funny thing about it is: now she is married, and her last name is that of her husband.
Tip Number Four: Let Things Happen Organically
I wanted Don to be like my dad. I wanted him to do everything around the house, which is what I considered a “traditional male role” – cut the grass, get my oil changed, wash my car, things like that. However, he did not. He never was taught to do that. He never had to, so he had no clue what needed to be done. When I would bring it up and then try to shame him into doing these things, it caused more drama. The more I insisted he do things like my dad, the more he did the opposite, which was nothing at all. We argued all the time. He hated me “telling him what to do” –– with the chores and with Gabi.
Finally, I eased up, and he found his place, especially with Gabi. They both love movies, so every time a movie came out, they were right there. She ran track, and he loved track, so he decided to be her coach. This lasted for years until she got to high school. Now that she is in the Coast Guard, she calls him all the time with our new grandson on FaceTime, and sometimes I have no clue that they even had a conversation. I love what Don and Gabi’s relationship has finally become, and it happened organically.
Tip Number Five: Be Mindful About Language
We never used the word “STEP.” We felt like that made an immediate division in the home. So, from the outset, Don was “daddy” to Gabi, and he called her his daughter. No one knew he wasn’t her biological father unless we told them, which wasn’t often. She has written him beautiful poetry since growing up, calling him daddy. She calls her biological father by his first name. This organically happened and I’m glad we made a choice to not use “STEP” in our home.
Was having a blended family easy? Absolutely NOT! However, we had to make conscious efforts to have real conversations about what was acceptable and what was not. Through prayer, adjustments, replacing force with flow, allowing things to happen organically, and being mindful about language, our family has blended successfully.