This is the first time I’ve ever done this and, since I’ve spent seemingly countless middle-of-the-night hours reading everyone else’s opinion about it on the Internet, I will offer my own out of respect for others – now knowing just what it feels like, having only imagined it up until now.
If you are like me only a few short days ago, building up to the big moment yourself, up late seeking reassurance on the Interwebs, well, I trust the gods have led you here and our experience might offer you some peace and intuitive mojo that yes, it is a big deal but can be successful with some intention and love. By the time you’re done reading this, hopefully you will get the idea that success may very well pivot on the work we put in but, perhaps more importantly, the spirit in which we do the work. This is one place where patience definitely pays off.
How I came to experience this still astounds me and I recommend, if it’s happening to you, to write about it. While sharing those private experiences and thoughts is optional, writing about it all has made the difference for me in processing and considering next moves from a lot of different perspectives. I highly recommend doing so, even if you don’t share.
Then, again, a leisurely stroll around the block to reflect might work just as well, too, and I’ve certainly taken my share of those.
I’ll say it up front: this is no small feat. It is a major life change for everyone involved. It brings everyone’s baggage along with it, real and otherwise, and will also leave an indelible mark on everyone going forward. Challenging enough? Indeed. We can, however, make an effort to design the experience.
Blending families, regardless of where you go to read on this topic, is generally regarded as a feat of balance, patience and compromise. I would agree. It requires all of this and an exquisite ability to communicate openly and fairly while respecting the boundaries of everyone involved. Lots of love, too. Also, a heaping helping of good design considerations but that’s a whole separate, future post.
Before I bestow our top three humble ingredients, please allow me to relay some backstory, even if just so I can set the stage for my own stream-of-thought…
I always give my wife tremendous credit for her communication skills. It’s out-of-this-world sexy to me that she was schooled in Switzerland and Germany, speaks five languages and counts communication effectiveness as some kind of hobby. Only the hopelessly inept struggle to communicate with her as she is a master, a role model, or should be, for generations to come, of how to effectively relay or transmit thoughts and ideas clearly between human beings. I am grateful and do not take this for granted. Her broad-minded perspective on people and the world makes our conversations full and challenging in a way I have always longed for. She challenges me to be an even better communicator. Score*
Meanwhile, I was not schooled overseas or raised in an international culture of intellectual powerhouses. In fact, I was schooled only minimally, having little skill as a student. I do, however, come with some talents. Reading body language is where my savant-ness scores highest. I have struggled most of my life to suppress this so-called gift, however, because it is a freakishly lonely one. People often contradict their body language with words, so imagine how someone with this odd knack would spend a childhood, and early adulthood, trying to reconcile the messages transmitted by people who go to a lot of trouble to cover up their feelings.
*Here’s the thing: even before I told her my secret, she did not contradict her body language or misinterpret mine. Score. For real. That’s chemistry, man. Choose your partner wisely.
Together, over the past two-plus years, we have been busy building an amazing new community around us of unique, talented and very smart people who are engaged in the world in a most diverse and interesting array of ways. Meanwhile, ever-so-slowly integrating each other more and more into our lives. Who could ask for more? We know we are fortunate and could not be more grateful for it.
Again, we can hardly take all the credit because we each come from challenging previous relationships that left us crystal clear on what would no longer be acceptable or pass for the definition of partnership. Choose your partner wisely because this is not for the meek or semi-pro partnerships. This is big-league change that affects kids’ lives and our own.
Naturally, this wasn’t a quick or emotional decision. We have been together since January of 2014 and married in December of 2015. After having been through as much in that short of time as many career-length married couples, we knew we were a superb fit for each other when things continued, even after two years, to evolve at a marathon pace, one tried and true for the long-term and a broad variety of seas. While neither of us can take any credit for that chemistry, there are some things we can take credit for.
So, without further adieu…
After week one of integrating my little boy (4) and I with my wife and her three children (twins 7, daughter 9), there are a three key insights we can share:
We waited for the time and place to find us, rather than the other way around. This one is the Queen of all ingredients. Don’t rush into anything.
Not enough can be said for this. I think she would agree that we have each had enough muscled situations in our lives that didn’t align with the things that matter most. “Synchronicity” can align with anything if you’re lonely or desperate enough.
Values and world view are key to helping each other grow and become our best selves. When those things are misfit, the odds are pretty good success will elude you. Nowadays, our children are the Suns our planets orbit around and our values and world views have never been more important. Having partners that don’t get it and don’t naturally bend to that sway is simply out of the question.
As time wore on and values continued to align, we gradually began opening ourselves up to doing more as a unit. Eating together, experiencing things together or simply just hanging out. Over time, we saw our children begin to discover each other’s personalities more, along with preferences, sensitivities and boundaries. We even took a bona-fide family vacation, traveling with 5 kids (the addition of a cousin), and found ourselves naturally filling in the gaps for each other.
We owe our success in this context to timing, for sure. It wasn’t always easy but slowly working into things with intention is absolutely worth it for everyone involved.
2. Read the signs
This one’s huge, too. Body language, interactions between the kids, each other – pay attention to it. Ignoring anything, even the slightest of nuance, can make the path longer and longer. Deal with feelings head-on and don’t be afraid to talk about anything that comes up.
We are very open with all the kids. Kids are smart and pick up on every nuance, arguably even more than grownups. We say all the time that our goal is to “keep them talking” about whatever is on their minds. We never lead them or put words in their mouths. Instead, we let them express their own feelings – unobstructed.
This isn’t as easy as it sounds. Sometimes they say things that are hard to hear. Sometimes it’s best to not comment back and just listen. Let them process the way they process. It can only be good to create a safe and accepted place for them where they know they can talk and someone is listening and not judging or pressuring them.
Keep in mind it’s all about trust and boundaries, opening them up as well as setting them. Both are equally important for success. Reading the signs has been instrumental in helping us do so successfully.
3. Have fun
Life is what we make it.
Want to make it suck? That’s easy. Focus on what’s wrong or what you don’t like. Compare yourself to others and other negative habits.
Want to make it fun? Focus on what’s good. Focus on what you and the others do well. It pays in spades. Be gracious.
Thoughts make things and choosing the best ones will quickly change the energy both inside and outside hearts and minds.
Sound too hippy? Tough. It works. Try it.
Kids are excellent barometers for this. They seem to unconsciously,quietly size-up adults according to some unwritten matrix of fun. This is why the super-Aunt or Uncle always wins. They get it.
During big life changes of any kind, it always seems to come back to the simple things, things that don’t cost anything, comfort-food for the heart, mind and tummy. These experiences always somehow involve doing something ordinary in an extraordinary way. This is a good metaphor for a lot of things. Keeping it light and fun is easier than most grownups like to think and doing so, especially in the months leading up to a transition, makes all the difference. Why would ANYONE want to move in with a fun-stealer?
These three tenets may sound trite or simplistic and they very well may be. Nonetheless, they have been the cornerstones of our success in integrating our two fragmented families into one big, fun ball of new world blendedness.
Keep in mind we still expect our own challenges, failures and triumphs as time goes on. Our kids are all still pretty young and, while that’s an advantage, in time they will ask questions and continue to challenge us. This is by no means a one-and-done sort of achievement. It is a process and will continue to evolve as our strategy and “family design principles” do.
We hope there’s something here you needed to hear. Somewhere inside you already know these things because there’s nothing new here.
Trust the process and trust each other. Blending families is embarking on one of the greatest and most challenging adventures there is – building a family with intention in a new world where families can look and feel however you choose them to look and feel.