Three events in life where stress levels are very high are:
- Death of a family member/loved one
- When a parent remarries and there is a step-parent and/or two pre-existing families are now joined, creating a "blended family."
Blended families experience the stress of at least two of these three life-changing events–so being able to manage stress is essential to solve blended family problems.
What To Look For
There is a lot of stress inherently involved with blending a family: the wedding, moving, perhaps a new job, the process of blending step-children into one blended family, differing parent styles, discipline, maintaining familiar and beloved family traditions while trying to create a new family identity. Parents can often get so involved in certain areas of this new life together, that they fail to recognize that stress–both theirs and their children's–is often at the root of many common problems.
When blending two families, pay attention to these signs of stress, or more correctly, distress:
- low energy,
- unwillingness to listen and communicate,
- irritation and annoyance,
- pretend positive feelings,
- rejection and isolation, and
- resentment and anger
When stress in the family is not identified and effectively managed, children can lose motivation to succeed in school, fail to obey parental rules, and they may begin to lose an optimistic outlook. These common behaviors children, and stepchildren exhibit when blending families, increase the difficulty of blending your families. So when a child goes from a good student, to an unmotivated student, for example, stress is often the reason.
Adapt to What You Can’t Control
The rule with this kind of event is that to manage stress successfully, it will benecessary to change and adapt your attitude.
- Learn about the stressor
What is causing the stress–work, home, arguing with spouse, arguing with children, struggling child? When does the stress normally occur?
- Learn how you respond to stress
Do you tense up? Do you feel helpless–no control? Do you lash out in anger and frustration? Do you blame others for causing the stress. Do you intensely react, or are you more controlled and methodical?
- Make changes to your attitude about it
These changes may include facing an uncertain future, which you fear and feel insecurity about, with efforts to increase confidence and hope rather than despair and hopelessness. Simply, focus on the future and desired positive outcomes.
- Pay attention to your thought processes
Do you focus more on the hurt an ex-spouse has caused, or do you focus on future possibilities, new beginnings, new spouse, children, new-found confidence, etc.?
You can find more happiness and fulfillment and succeed with your desire to blend two families if you can display positive relationship skills when you are also doing other things. This means you can get work accomplished by giving enough attention to family members and encouraging everyone while doing things together. Everyone can find a place of security where there is love and attention, and chores do not become a source of conflict. You can get rules implemented and obeyed if there is enough warmth, communication, and patience displayed. All of these can be accomplished in your blended family when you create a family structure emphasizing relationships. And a family structure is definitely something you can control.
Change What You Can Control
What do you do about things you can control?
- You can control what you say,
- how you use your time,
- how you relate to people,
- some part of your feelings
- how hard and long you work
- how you make and spend your money,
- how you discipline your children,
- your religious practices, and
- many of the people you introduce into your children’s lives.
HOW TO BE IN CONTROL WHEN STRESSED
When you and your children have been away from home (e.g., at work, with friends, at school, attending church, etc.), you might need to adapt some feelings and attitudes before you go into your family environment. This will be especially true for outside experiences that are stressful and negative so you don’t bring those home to family members. How do you do this?
- Set an appointed place on your way home where you will consciously stop thinking about work or what you are bringing home and start thinking about the positive qualities of family members and what you love about them.
- Talk about work-related stress as if it is temporary or solvable or going to lead to something, like a new opportunity. If possible, avoid talking about work-related stress as if it is being caused by someone at work or some condition that cannot be readily changed.
- Create a “going home routine,” where greetings and pleasantries are communicated as soon as family members reunite.
- Recognize how your behavior changes when you are feeling high levels of stress (e.g., grumpiness, impatience, etc.). When it happens, tell family members that you see what you are doing and that your behavior is related to outside experiences and not their actions.
Successfully managing stress in these cases requires that you make decisions and become quite good at carrying out what you decide. Often, negative reactions are simply expressions of frustration–expressions that, though they may be understandable, do not help the situation, nor do they help you to feel better. Focus on future outcomes. Pause and think for a moment about the situation as if you are seeing the whole scene play out on a big screen. Identify the stressors so you can adapt and focus on what you can control. Now start formulating a plan that can eliminate, or reduce, the stress based on things you can control. For example, if you are constantly battling with children and homework–because they are always rushing through it at the last moment–maybe you need to structure your family so every day at --:-- time, it is homework time–for everybody, you included. Your homework might be doing some work, or helping kids with their homework. By setting aside a specific time, kids are not "interrupting" your quiet time with questions about homework.
HOW TO FIND BALANCE AND HARMONY
Now consider this example of two people, recently married, who are attempting toblend her two children with his three children to create one family. It was not easy, but they made progress because they agreed to the following methods of blending relational abilities with family work and rules.
- Discuss and come to agreement
They agreed to meet together, discuss, and agree before they both introduced any rules to their children.
- Be loyal and support each other
They would be loyal and support each other, and when they didn’t, they would not argue in front of the children but move their discussion to a private room.
- Use Family Togetherness
They used family togetherness rewards (movies, game playing, eating out for dinner) when children successfully worked together to get family chores done (e.g., they worked with their children doing dishes after the evening meal, dividing the work so that each child and parent had a task to do and all had to cooperate to finish it).
- Have weekly family meetings
They organized weekly family meetings where they discussed positive achievements and things they needed to improve. Every family member then selected a goal to make things better in the ensuing week.
- Spend one-on-one time with kids
Both parents committed time simply to talk one-on-one with the children. This process is gradual, but the rewards are tremendous as stepchildren begin to trust the relationship with their new stepparents. Begin now. Start small and simple–donut dates, fun simple activities in the backyard like playing catch, helping with homework, watching a movie or TV show together. Find common interests and engage in them together. The better the relationship, and more consistent and trustworthy it is, the more children will begin to trust and confide with stepparents.