Tuesday, March 13, 2012

"Bonus" Families

Worst case scenario
Not to leave any stone unturned as we merge our lives together, I am going to flip the channel from the house (which is overwhelming & stressful by itself) to our continued quest to "blend" our families.  I don't like the term blended family--I was looking on the internet and I found a few articles about moving in together with step-families.  One article called the families "Bonus" Families.  I like that.  Xing Fu's kids are a bonus--a positive addition to my smallish family--I get to be a stepmom to girls--I don't have girls.  I get an opportunity to be a "mom" to girls in my life--something I didn't think I'd ever experience as I believed that I had a boy & that was that.  And conversely, Xing Fu has the opportunity to be a "dad" to a boy--something he never figured on either.  Definitely a bonus.  

Anyway, what I've been reading has to do with successfully smooshing us into a new family unit when we'll all be under the same roof.  And in particular that same roof should be a new one.  Get a great start.  Instead of moving into his place or her place, find a new home.  This can be neutral territory and a fresh start for all.  This eliminates the problems caused by some of the family feeling eternally like "outsiders," and the "insiders" feeling like their territory is being invaded or encroached on.  The cost and trouble of getting into a neutral home might be substantial, but the benefits may be well worth it.

Check.  Got this covered.  In fact, Xing Fu & I signed our first official document together with the realtor last night.  Cool.  And also as a result of last night's meeting the "For Sale" sign goes up in front of the house on Friday.  Wow, I can't believe it is actually happening--it's one thing to have the contractor here working on the house but it's quite another to actually see the sign out front.

The next piece of advice seems to be not to expect that the process will be easy or happen overnight--I am truly learning that now. Don't expect the process of blending families to be easy.  The process is almost always one of the most challenging, frustrating, and heart-breaking experiences of your life.  Expect to go through phases with highs and lows, mistakes and successes, over a period of four to seven years.  Having your expectations too high might crush your resolve to hang in there when things get really hard. 

It has been pretty hard & it has had ups & downs & when you think things are hunk-dory between all of the family members--think again!  I just hope it doesn't take 7 years--everyone will be in college by then!  

And then there's the concerns about discipline & re-directing the kids:
Discipline your own children -- not your step children.  The older the children, the more important this guideline can be.  Work out and agree on some posted "house rules" to be applied to everyone in the home.  Do this in a family council (after you and your spouse have come to terms on the major issues).  Then make sure that you are the primary enforcer with your children, not with your step-children.  Xing Fu & I are already discussing these things & the house rules advice is HUGE--we recognize that even now.  

I find the next piece of advice also very helpful with regard to how one grows the relationship with their step-children:  Become a friend with your step-children.  Friendship should be your primary role with them -- something like a fun camp-counselor relationship.  Consider winking and smiling at them when they get away with something.  Give up completely on the idea of improving the discipline of your step-children.  It's a war you can never win.  Surrender now.  You can be a back-up and support to your spouse at times, but if you come across as more strict, or more consistent than their parent, you will lose.  If you are determined to be a positive influence the behavior of your step-children, keep it 100% positive.  I think we're getting there as well--it is bumpy at times but I see the progress.  

And finally, something that I know I've talked about before & am a firm believer in: Put your marriage first.  The greatest gift you can give your children is the lasting image and influence of a loving, committed, fun relationship between their parents.  Schedule a weekly date night away from the kids, and make it a priority!  Much of your daily communications will be about problems with the kids, but try to make date time a vacation from family problems -- a time to focus on enjoying each other.  Despite other failings in the family, if the children grow up wanting to have a marriage like yours, you've been a successful parent.  Okay, so we're not married but we are committed to one another & are in this for the long haul, hence buying the house.  And I wholeheartedly agree that modeling positive adult relationships goes a long way to helping children grow up to have their own--respect one another.  Show love. I think we're there.  Now to sell the house & hopefully quickly too.


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