Our blended family is comprised of our oldest daughter (mine from a previous relationship), another daughter and son (my husband’s from a previous relationship), and our fraternal twin sons (ours together).
This means there are multiple sets of family dynamics (adults, grandparents, cousins) and that our children have layered—and often vastly different—experiences.
There is often a divide between “his children” and “my children”: This is collateral damage from being in a blended family, and it’s an area I took for granted. Our children were 5, 4 and almost 3 years old when we got married. (Add two years for the time we spent dating or engaged.) Because they were so young, I thought the molding of their bond would be seamless forever.
While both my husband and I see all of our children as ours collectively, the facts are that they all don’t share the same realities.
All Blended Families Are Not Created Equal
Our older children are close in age (11, 10, 9), but their development blossoms differently. For example, the oldest is in middle school with a different school schedule and more social opportunities than her younger sister who is in 3rd grade. I can’t tell you how many times our youngest girl has cried because she cannot attend the same functions as her older sister.
it’s important for your children to know that everyone won’t experience the same thing at the same time.
Then there is the family structure itself. My two stepchildren spend time with both their mom and dad equally; my husband has shared custody. I have sole custody of my oldest daughter, who is 11.
Over the past two years, she had made remarks to my stepchildren to emphasize the experience we had as a family when they were not present. Comments like, “Well, we went to get ice cream while you were gone” or “I spent the night at [insert family member’s name].” It took some time for her to disclose that these remarks were actually feelings of jealousy towards my stepchildren. She saw the consistent interactions with both their biological parents (and myself), compared it to her own reality, and sought ways to validate herself.
Then, there are our 3.5-year-old twins. They’re still so young and so malleable. What is normal to them may result in many questions later when they are able to fully understand the family they were born into.
Considering the dynamics of age and your family’s structure, it’s important for your children to know that everyone won’t experience the same thing at the same time. Let your child know that yes, they might miss that ice cream trip because they were visiting their mom or dad that week.
But, good news: This week it’s family movie night.
It Sounds Cliche, But Communication Is Key
The disclosure of our oldest’s feelings would not have been possible had it not been for open communication in our home. Young brains are constantly developing. Children are trying to make sense of the world around them and the world in which they live. They need permission to emote, to ask hard questions and to receive honest answers that are on their level. We’ve given our children permission to say things like “It made me upset when…” We’ve also refereed conversations between them that required them to listen with the intent to understand without devaluing their own feelings or opinions.
We’ve given our children permission to say things like ‘It made me upset when…’
Teaching and modeling these tools not only allows them to openly express their feelings—it also fosters mutual respect and building blocks of friendships among siblings. The gift of having a sibling is the testing of a relationship; someone to see them through hard times, laugh with, cry and experience many firsts with. Centering and growing their relationship as friends beyond siblings—step or otherwise— through communication has been an anchor for our family.
Don’t Underestimate Quality Time
Spending time with each child individually is key. This is a struggle for us since my husband and I are outnumbered. There are times when we fall off for months at a time. But when tensions run high, that’s a sign for us that we need to take time out with the kids and reset.
…When tensions run high, that’s a sign for us that we need to take time out with the kids and reset.
I’ve learned that you don’t have to make it a grand or expensive excursion. A quick stop to get ice cream, a game of cards, a video game session or a walk around the neighborhood can go along way to create a bond that is not attached to the other members of the family. Sibling rivalry can often fester because one child may think another child is getting more time with their parent. And oftentimes in blended families because of shared custody schedules, that is a fact. They’re seeking attention. Carving out that extra time—as little as 15 minutes—enhances the parent-child bond and eases antagonism. It’s a win-win.
The facts are that sibling tension in any family happens. Don’t be surprised when it happens in a blended family. It is normal behavior but there are some additional layers that may play a role. Helping your children walk through and talk through these issues are stepping stones to a successful and healthy family unit.