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Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Kids Need To Know: This marriage will last, but so will our bond.


A coworker and I had a long conversation about blended and nontraditional families this week and it really got me thinking about the unique needs of children in modern day family units.  In my personal situation, this means two separate households, and periodic moves between the two homes and two sets of caregivers.

Many children experience their first big life change when their original parents divorce or separate.  The people who matter most in their lives will nevermore have the same residence.  It is a split to the core of their identity, with varying consequences depending on age and ongoing relationships.  The next great life change happens when a new coupling and marriage occur.  The web of connections are complicated and challenging to navigate as an adult.  They are confusing and intimidating for children and will threaten stability and security.

Because so much feels like it is swirling, children need to know that this marriage is going to last.  For several months before and after our wedding, a little voice would ask, "What if Keith leaves?  What if he doesn't keep his promise?" Other variations came out, but ultimately each of my children had experienced loss through divorce and feared it could happen again.

Over and over I tell them we will keep our promise.  We will choose to remain together.  We will be part of their lives until we die.  We are a team - all of us in the family - and we will always stick together.  When Mr. Wonderful chose to be with me, he chose to be with you, too.  He loves you.


We back this up with affection and activities to promote memories and bonds.  Time helps strengthen their belief, but ultimately only living out the promise will prove it to them.

On very few occasions, I have been pressed far into the, "What if..."  Then I tenderly hold the hurting child and reassure him/her that God has always taken care of us and He will continue to do the same.  We made it on our own before and can do that, but we won't have to.  God already knows our future we can trust Him.  This seems to end the verbal wondering, and I hope provides security by anchoring life to something greater than us.

So while this marriage is real and lasting and secure, sometimes children suddenly feel less secure of their own place in the family.  Divorce, remarriage, even long term coupling/uncoupling magnifies these feelings which leads to insecurity.  I have felt it, so I know it passes through each mind in our home.

If there are two sets of children blending together, firstborns may not remain the oldest child in the home.  The youngest may lose their role as the "baby" of the family.  There is a shuffling of roles and it is vital to honor the original families and cultivate the bonds that have already been in place.  Reinforcing the existing bonds offers security and continuity to the sometimes chaotic changes taking place in blended homes. Here are some ways we do this:
  • Schedule nights with just mom or just dad.  Take advantage of errands or activities with just you and your child.  Sometimes we drive through Starbucks after gymnastics.  Create your, "thing" with each individual child.  With my middle schooler, our "thing" is to get a Chick Fil A biscuit every now and then.  It's something I only do with him.  Encourage your spouse to take time for a date with just he and his children.  They will all be so grateful!
  • Honor their history by looking at their baby book or newborn pictures on their birthday.  Tell the story of their arrival.  Remind them you were there in the beginning and will always be there.  Say, "My love for you will never end."  
  • Do something big every now and then.  Take a roadtrip, camp overnight or schedule a photo session.  Cultivate a team attitude that we are in this together and for each other.
  • Weave small reminders into everyday life.  Cook favorite meals together.  Read books aloud. Focus on the relationship with your child by asking questions and enter his or her world.  Play that favorite video game.  Download a new song or completely unplug.  
  • Continue the legacy that was given to you by passing down family favorites.  Our family gardens and worships together.  Remind your child when they have a trait like grandmother or grandad.
Complexity is mired into the fabric of blended or second families.  The natural slant for some children will be toward insecurity.  Children, teens and even adult children need to know that the current arrangement is permanent.  They need to know their bonds will last.  When you enter into a new family status, you have the opportunity to provide deeper security and permanence.

Please share any tips you have experience to foster blended family unity and security.  Also, I would love hearing from adults who experienced childhood in a blended family...how did you feel?  What helped?  annoyed?  hurt?  How do you perceive the experience today?