[Note: This page has been rewritten (or is being rewritten as of 12/4/01) because the blended family it was originally for no longer exists. But there is still a blended family because on Dec. 30, 1998, my wife and I were married in Colorado and she moved back here with me and we're raising the my two sons from my previous marriage together.]
Probably the all-time classic blended family was the Brady Bunch. We all remember Marsha and Greg, Peter and Jan, and Bobby and Cindy. I'm sorry, but I just don't think they got it quite right. If Mike Brady had never had experience raising a teenage girl, then there would have been a LOT more problems than we were led to believe. Speaking from personal experience, raising boys (of which I have 2) and raising girls (of which my siblings have 6) are as different as night and day. OK, so maybe I'm exaggerating just a tad, but I'm beginning to believe that males and females really are from different planets-- it's the only logical explanation as to why boys and girls see the same situation in two entirely different ways! But I'm getting a bit off the topic of this page...
Blending a family is NOT an easy task. The biggest problem I've found is that it is difficult to change one's parenting habits. How we raise our kids is based on several factors. How we were raised (what we liked/ what we didn't like), our life experiences to date and our entire philosophy of life. I'm one who finds the standard sayings like "They're just kids" completely unacceptable. I can understand age appropriate behavior, but that does not excuse it or mean that it must be tolerated. I get into arguments with my mother all the time about "letting the little things slide". But because of my beliefs that EVERY thought, word and deed has a definite impact on not only our lives but the overall "spiritual health" of the universe, there are no "little things" for me. I've brought my boys up to tell me when the other is breaking a rule and I'm not around to see it. For many, this is being a tattle-tale. But apathy is one of the biggest problems in the world today from my point of view. I want my kids to grow up knowing when they see someone doing something wrong and they are unable to handle it themselves (or should not be handling it, as in disciplining another's child), they should go to someone who is able to handle it for help. I had a college friend who was raped in the lobby of an apartment complex because no one wanted to get involved even when she pushed all the doorbells screaming for help. I don't want my kids to stand around someday when someone is being brutally raped or attacked and not do anything to stop it. It is much easier to teach them discretion when telling me about the breaking of rules than it is to teach them a new habit. My wife was brought up in a completely different environment than I was-- different faiths, even different generations. (She is 16+ years my junior...whereas her mother is only 7+ years older than I am and she (my wife) is only 10 years older than my oldest son. And I use the term "my son" to avoid confusion. I consider them our kids now since she is as active in parenting them as I am.) She has completely different ideas about how children should be raised. Because both of our ideas are based on our spiritual beliefs, reaching a compromise can be tricky at times. But we always manage to reach a compromise and our willingness to back the other up even when we don't agree with a disciplinary action taken has helped the kids to understand that she has the same parental authority over them that I do. Because she came into the family so "late", so to speak, she saw some behaviors in the boys that were getting out of hand. The changes in their behavior had been so slow that I had failed to see that it had reached the "unacceptable" stage. It was like skating on a frozen pond-- we had been skating closer and closer to thin ice with no real problems that we didn't even realize we were on thin ice.
I don't think there is one way to blend families. Each situation is unique. Ours had the added complication of being a same sex relationship, something that was still relatively new to my kids. Not that they have a problem with my being gay and in love with another woman...but some of their classmates do. I know my oldest was being taunted by several kids for a while. When he just laughed along with them and ignored their taunts, they eventually stopped. But that's got to be hard for teen and pre-teen boys to deal with. It was something they handled admirably. There were no problems in that area at all. The only perfect solution to blending a family is the one that works for your blended family. While it's nice to hear other points of view, it is more important to listen to your kids points of view. The key, I think, is to give the kids time-- time to adjust, time to get used to the new members of the family. Time to experience where those boundaries are and what lines cannot be crossed without serious consequences.
I think too that it's extremely important for the parents in any blended family to have had a very long and deep discussion about the possible ways to blend their families and to know what the other wants in terms of limitations. There MUST be compromise from both sides-- otherwise the kids will sense the tension and they will use that to their advantage. Both adults have to come into the "blending" meeting with a general idea of where they're going but with enough flexibility to change how they get there.
Best of luck to those of you blending families. You have your work cut out for you, but it is worth it to be with the one you love.