By Clark Rich Burbidge and Leah Dee Burbidge
Fourteen years in the family blender has brought us a nearly non-stop series of insights, challenges, shocks, joy and the satisfaction of creating something beautiful nearly from scratch. Six of our most valuable, but frequently unspoken, learnings are listed below.
Keep in mind that a lot of the challenges of blended family life will sound familiar. But they play out with different dynamics because blended families and individuals have perspective, experience and insight that gives them a fragile mix of volatility, skepticism and wisdom. Respecting these dynamics dramatically increases the probability of success. Ignoring them nearly always spirals the family into soul-crushing train wrecks.
Nobody Talks About It. Our dating and marriage experience revealed shockingly little available blended family ‘How To’ guidance. Pop culture, literature, movies and media produced a wasteland of mostly
useless stereotypes. Family and friends seemed uncomfortable discussing the reality we faced. The elephant was in the room, but the conversation always tended to migrate toward the reasons people find themselves suddenly single. Divorce, death and abandonment are uncomfortable topics. We found taking the lead in turning the conversation toward positive aspects allowed more constructive interactions.
First Steps Determine Results. Success in the family blender is most often determined by how a couple structures their personal relationship and their interaction with the children from the beginning. Casual, careless, loosely committed and primarily physically-driven relationships almost never have sufficient strength to withstand the blender. Children won’t buy-in if they think it’s going to lead to another let-down. Blended family life requires an undeniably higher standard and level of commitment. Children get this, parents must also.
Blended Families Done Right Save Souls. We have devoted an entire chapter in our book to the statistical benefits for children by being part of a two-parent family (blended or otherwise). There is no question that such children have dramatically better chances of building a healthy foundation enabling them to be successful in life. Lower rates of poverty, drug abuse, problems with the law or in school, unemployment, depression and general acting out behaviors are well researched. That is not to say there aren’t successful single parents, but it pays to play the odds where you can.
Start Where Your Child Is. Parents cannot start with a child where they are supposed to be or where you think they are but ARE NOT. This dooms your efforts to unrealistic expectations, falling short and builds a culture of regular failure and disappointment. Parents must ‘listen to understand’ and patiently respect what they learn. You will come to appreciate where they believe they are in life and in the family. Once you know where they are then every step is automatically a success because it is a re-enforcing step forward. The Bio-Compass. There is an especially deep and natural relationship that exists between the bio-parent and their child. This is okay. The non-bio parent will, over time, be allowed to earn their way into that space. However, there will be moments when only the bio-parent can address the child’s needs, trauma or struggle. The non-bio parent must patiently step back, but remain in the picture and supportive, and allow their spouse to take the lead. This is why prideful or selfish attitudes struggle with blended parenthood. It absolutely demands selflessness. Respecting this relationship always wins in the long term.
You Are Not Alone. Because it is not a social topic of conversation does not mean it isn’t common. Research illustrates that a sizable majority of Americans are touched by blended family life in one way or another. They understand you are not broken. This is especially true of single parents. Rest assured there is an individual out there with a healthy, kind outlook who can understand your complex family situation and love you and your children unconditionally. Both single and blended parents can experience happier more fulfilling lives.
It Is Worth It. Blended family life can be rewarding, exciting and fulfilling. Seeing these tender souls, who were once so wounded, blossom with love and kindness in their own increasingly productive lives is worth every struggle, every late night, every heartfelt conversation, every tear and every prayer. Most of all know that you are good enough to be successful.
About the Authors: Clark and Leah Burbidge are 14 years into their blended family experience and loving life more than ever with ten children and their eight spouses, eight grandchildren and counting. Their practical ‘autobiographical/how to’ guide is contained in a new Gold Medal award
winning book, Living in the Family Blender: 10 Principles of a Successful Blended Family, July (2019 – Deep River Books.)