by Lois Szymanski
The average blended family needs between five and seven years to merge and form a shared family identify. And for some it could be longer.
When Keith Rogers and his wife, Jennie married seven years ago they became a family of seven. They knew it would take work and dedication to build a family blended by love, but both of them were up to the challenge.
“I brought three kids into the new family, Lauren, Jake, and Jimmy. Jennie brought two kids into the family, Emma and Mason,” Keith shared. “One of the first things we did was give our family its own name, since everyone didn’t have the same last name. We initially allowed the kids to come up with a family name for the 7 of us. It did not go well. [They] suggested names including Sexy 7, Stupid 7, Sick 7, etc. We went to church the day after our family-naming debacle. The message was Mathew 5:13 – on being the Salt of the earth. Jennie wrote in her notes, ‘Salty 7’ and our family name was born.”
Keith and Jennie not only worked hard to turn their two families into one blended, loving family, they also decided to pass on what they learned along the way. Currently, they lead a small group for blended families, based on Ron Diehl‘s curriculum and research. They call their group, “The Crock Potters,” a name you’ll find the meaning for, if you read on.
In their book, “Building Love Together in Blended Families,” authors Gary Chapman & Ron Deal share seven underlying principles of love and how they relate to finding success in a Blended Family. Deal notes that almost everyone in a step-family has experienced some sort of loss. That loss colors how they feel and act. All the while, parents are working to form circles of deep abiding love and trust in their newly formed family. Deal and Chapman recommend that, to find the success they crave, families should consider seven underlying principles of love.
Principle # 1 – Blended families are not born with the same sense of “familyness,” and therefore, they must nurture it. On day one, blended families are not yet blended. It takes patience and time. Lots of it, just like a good meal takes time in a crock pot. Anyone who has tried to rush the meat, carrots and potatoes knows well that each one needs to fully cook in order to be enjoyed.
“Blending a family is so challenging,” Keith said. “Many people go into it thinking, this is going to be so great, everyone is getting along. Then a few months into it, things start to unravel.”
Keith says the first year was a “honeymoon period” for their blended family. Then, the challenges came.
“Blending takes time,” he said. “Some kids adapt quicker, some take longer. Blending cannot be like a blender [that mixes] everything up instantly. Blending should be like a crock pot, slow cooking over time. Some kids are like carrots that take time to soften, others are like meat that softens more quickly.”
Principle #2 – Patience is a virtue. While waiting, love generously. The average blended family will take 5 to 7 years to merge and form a family identity according to research. It’s important to show love, to feel love and to portray love as each member travels the journey at a different pace.
The Rogers tell everyone that reaches out to them for counsel on this principle [that] it requires intentionality. “Seven years is a long time, [but] we are on year seven, and I can attest that it takes that long.”
Principle #3 – A committed, loving marriage is the first and last motivator of stepfamily integration – so strengthen your marriage. Manage communication, finances, and resolve conflict. Don’t let fear make you guarded, self-protective, distrustful and reactive. Learn to speak your spouse’s love language. Married couples make the strongest statement of permanence to their children. Keith said he and Jenny give a lot of focus to this principle.
“The only way that we can be successful in blending our family is if we are successful in our marriage. We have to make time for each other,” he said. “Date nights are essential!”
Principle #4 – Parents in blended families have to be a team and play to their individual strengths. Seeing all parental players as teammates is key. This gives children a more stable environment, where they’re not caught in the middle of between-home battles.
“When things are tough, our safe word or phrase has always been ‘We are on the same team,’ Keith said. “If we don’t make it together, then none of us [will] make it.”
Principle #5 – For those who have lost a previous spouse, that loss can complicate things, so allow yourself to grieve. You can grieve together – even if the loss is not yours.
Principle #6 – Don’t walk away too soon. Don’t toss away or minimize the good even when it the goodness is difficult to find. Lean into what works. Speak love well. Sacrifice a little more, hold onto hope and keep learning and growing. For Keith and Jenny, that meant having each of their children take the Love Language Quiz.
“We try to understand what makes them feel loved and then try to speak to them in that language,” he said, showing that full-intent effort. “The statistics for second marriages are not good”, so we don’t want our family to be another statistic.
Principle #7 – Learning to love well comes when you put away guilt and know the source of love. Step-families and guilt can go hand in hand, coming from so many places in the past. But God sets you free to pass along His love and forgiveness to others in your home.
“Some of the biggest problems we have had are due to things that have happened in our past relationships,” Keith shared. “We all have triggers. Understanding what those triggers are and why and how each of us reacts to those triggers has helped us resolve a lot of the guilt we brought into our marriage.”
By examining and learning your love language and turning to these seven principles, stepparents can navigate confusing waters. That water sometimes harbors sharks, Ron Deal says, but with love and intention, there is safe passage to becoming that warm and loving ever-together family.
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