Parenting and family life are hard to begin with. It should be no surprise bringing two families together, adding another person’s child(ren) into the mix, balancing different learned parenting styles, healing through trauma, overcoming previous relationships, fostering healthy bonds between step siblings, and working to peacefully co-parent with people outside your home can be especially challenging. However, the hardest things are often the most rewarding, and certainly the biggest opportunities for growth.
We’ve interviewed a few women from different blended family situations to provide those feeling discouraged and alone in their struggles with some encouragement and helpful advice. Please remember it takes time to adjust and you are not the only one navigating these difficult situations, and there is a community of other blended families happy to support you, guide you, and cheer you on!
What has been the hardest part of this journey for you?
“The hardest part of my journey in blending a family is learning the ‘new me.’ With a larger group of children to care for, as well as learning to adjust to new personalities, I’ve had to adjust my expectations of myself. There also is not an end-all in this situation; I am constantly learning to adapt and change as needed to meet the needs of my family and of myself.” -Erica Means Shemwell
“No one tells you this before you marry a man with kids, but becoming a stepmom will inevitably bring up every fear and insecurity you have ever had and will make you question everything, including your own self-worth. For me, the hardest part has been facing my own issues and making the commitment to do the work it takes to grow and mature not only emotionally, but mentally and spiritually as well.” -Rachel Dunne
“The most difficult part of blending our family was (and continues to be) leaning in to differing parenting goals and strategies. Since we didn’t ‘have’ these children together, we didn’t create aligned values early on. Bringing two already established units together is something we constantly run into.
Before we even got married, we did some counseling sessions which was a good start. We also have tried evening discussions/workbooks on creating a ‘family constitution’ and shared goals while respecting our differences.” -Gretta Nance
You can read about Gretta’s blended family experience here: I Didn’t See My Divorce Coming, And It Was Ultimately A Gift
What advice would you give your younger self, or someone in a similar situation?
“If I could go back to my younger stepmom self, I would tell her to not get too caught up in what she’s feeling because she won’t always feel that way. I would tell her to not sit too long in her pain, because it won’t always hurt that bad. I would tell her to trust the process even if she can’t understand it.” -Rachel Dunne
“Find ways to stay open minded as you age. Seek out diverse groups, friends, and situations. It can be so easy to get ‘stuck in our ways’ the older we get.” -Gretta Nance
“The best advice I can give anyone who finds themselves blending a family, is to be kind. First and foremost, be kind to yourself. When we can learn to be kind to ourselves, we in turn will show that kindness to the rest of our families.
Kindness needs to be the foundation of learning to open up to new and changing relationships as it helps to establish trust and a genuine care and interest in others that they will be able to feel, and in turn, will at some point on their journey, give back to you.” -Erica Means Shemwell
You can read about Erica’s blended family experience here: Widow And Widower Find Love After Loss, Blend Families To Have 11 Children
What would you go back and do differently knowing what you know now?
“I would have worked hard to find a great therapist (which can be so time consuming,) and regularly checked in with them – even during my first marriage. There was no ‘investing in me time.’ My self growth didn’t start until my marriage fell apart, and I had no guide to turn to. I was SO out of touch with my own emotions as a woman – everything had been about our relationship. Invest in YOU as a person. There’s literally no downside.” -Gretta Nance
“If I could go back to when I first remarried, I would tell myself that having difficulties when blending a family is completely normal, even expected. Working through challenges enables us to become closer to our family members in ways that surface level words and actions can never achieve. Having healthy confrontation with each other will help everyone to find better answers and to know that their opinion is valued.” -Erica Means Shemwell
“If I could go back and do things differently, I would have said ‘no’ a lot more in those early years so that I could have avoided the burnout and resentment that built up and eventually exploded out onto the people I love the most. I would take better care of myself instead of always sacrificing my own mental well-being to make everyone else happy, especially my husband.
Also, my biggest regret is the lack of knowledge I had about trauma and the impact it was having on my young stepdaughter. I wish I could go back and redo a lot of conversations and situations. I wish I could go back and give her the consistent comfort and understanding I now realize she needed so desperately from me.
Many times, I was so caught up in my own pain that it made me blind to hers. I think I got a lot right as a stepmom even in those early years, but I also got a whole heck of a lot wrong and I am grateful for all the lessons I have learned along the way.” -Rachel Dunne
You can read about Rachel’s blended family experience here: ‘I begged God to turn back time and give me a redo.’: Stepmom shares faith journey through marriage, blended family difficulties
This article was written exclusively for Love What Matters by Elizabeth Grow. Join the Love What Matters family and subscribe to our newsletter.
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