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For A Happy Blended Family, Take These 5 Ingredients and Mix Well

08/28/2015 05:22 EDT | Updated 08/28/2016 05:59 EDT
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One of the most difficult decisions any person can make is deciding to end a meaningful relationship. This becomes even more complicated when a child is involved. When a relationship ends and there are no children involved, you have the right to never see that individual again. You're pretty much free and clear. If you have a child with a former partner, however, that will never be the case. Your relationship with that person never really ends -- it shifts and develops into something different.

I am no stranger to blended families. Not only am I a single mom, but my mother remarried when I was in elementary school. Our family went from a single-parent home with three children to one that also included a stepbrother and stepfather. My previous marriage included a stepdaughter. Before that, I was the girlfriend with no children of my own, trying to figure that whole dating-a-single-dad thing. Each situation provided me with a different perspective.

I've listed some key things I've learned based on my experiences. Since every situation is unique, a copy and paste approach to any relationships simply won't work. Thus, this is not a "how to" list, it's more of a list of suggestions.

1) Honesty

You have to be honest with yourself. If you are not in a relationship with the person you decided to have a child with, then you must assume at some point your ex-partner will introduce them to his/her new partner. If you don't accept this you are setting yourself up for disappointment. It sounds obvious but people have a hard time with that reality.

2) Trust.

As much as you may want to interview every person that will spend time with your child without you, it's simply not realistic. Like it or not you're going to have to trust that your ex-partner loves your child and will make decisions based on that love. That includes being selective over whom he/she will allow in your child's life.

3) Thoughtful Introductions.

Whether you're introducing a new partner to your child and/or the other parent of that child, the atmosphere for the initial introduction is important. My relationship with my now ex-step daughter and her mother has always been good. Part of this can be attributed to my initial introduction to them. My ex-husband invited me to a family barbecue where his daughter, then 10 years old, and her mother were present. The atmosphere was informal and relaxed. It didn't take long for me to engage in conversation with the mother of his child.

Looking back I'm sure in her own way she was sizing me up and assessing this woman that will now be in her child's life. She's a mom and she operated as such. She's also a classy woman, so her inspection was subtle and didn't feel threatening or uncomfortable. By the end of the night we exchanged numbers as a way of maintaining contact regarding their shared child. My relationship with his daughter began just as organically. We simply interacted and enjoyed each other's company and it grew from there. I will reiterate the introduction was important. Without having to verbally state what I meant to him, my presence and interaction with his family spoke volumes.

4) Check Your Insecurity At The Door.

This applies to all adult parties on different levels. For the parents, the relationship between your child and the new spouse will NEVER negate who you are as to them. As long as you are active and have a relationship with your child, your status is solidified. Period. If you're in a relationship with a person who's co-parenting, you have to understand that they will always (in most cases) maintain some form of relationship with their former spouse. Before introductions to the children (and/or co-parent) are made, you have to be clear on the depth and direction of your relationship. If your relationship needs work in order for both parties to understand that, then do the work required. Remaining secure about who you are to your spouse minimizes unnecessary scrutiny on many levels.

5) Communication.

I remember when my now-stepfather was introduced into my life. I was far too young to understand the natural progression of an adult relationship. In my nine-year-old mind ,things appeared to be moving so quickly. It felt like we were all spending time together at the movies one day and the next day we were all living together. I had no other mental references because my mom did not bring tons of men into our life. In my adult mind I recognize now that I could have benefited from a talk about what these dates and family gatherings were leading up to. Not that she needed my permission, but I could have benefited from some clarity. Communication around what this relationship will mean for your child's life is important. Don't assume they figured it out.

Identifying and adding the essential ingredients for a blended family can be hard. I barely scratched the surface of some of the ingredients required. If a blended family is something that you are currently working on, or if it's a possibility for you, then it may help to look at it like baking a cake. You can't just carelessly toss some eggs, water, milk and butter in pan, throw it into the oven and expect something amazing to come out. You need the right ingredients specific to what you're creating, and then you have to BLEND them. Like any relationship, yours will endure some heat, but how it turns out afterwards depends on the level of preparation beforehand.

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