With the rising divorce rates, it is not uncommon for families to merge and create blended households. But combining families from different backgrounds may not always be the easiest task.
Certified relationship experts Debbie and Edward Smith know this challenge all too well. Rolling out was able to catch up with the authors of The 5 Star Marriage and The 5 Star Husband/Wife and internationally syndicated radio hosts to get some insight on how to successfully blend a family.
What is the basis for successful relationships in your books, The 5 Star Marriage and The 5 Star Husband/Wife?
Edward Smith: In our books, the basis for successful relationships is selfless love. It’s esteeming your spouse more than yourself; it’s trying to out-love each other every single day; it’s reliance on God; it’s extending grace and forgiveness to one another; and above all, it’s choosing to stay and fight through the tough times.
What advice do you give singles and married couples for finding and staying in love in a blended family?
ES: There is no question that being in a blended family has its own unique dynamic but finding and staying in love is the same across the board- loving your spouse and family is a choice — not a feeling. If we act only upon our feelings we would be in and out of love with various people from 1 day to the next. However, when you choose to love, it means staying through the arguments; it means fighting for your family; it means choosing to stay when it seems easier to leave. Finding and staying in love means making a decision that you are “all in” for the long haul. It also means putting in the work that is necessary for a thriving relationship. Every couple and every family are either moving toward oneness or toward isolation — choose every day to out-love one another.
What key qualities do you need when combining families?
Debbie Smith: When blending families, you must have patience, a forgiving spirit, and thick skin! Every single day you will need to forgive the children and or your spouse. We are all humans and we make daily mistakes. You will also need to have thick skin so that you won’t take everything personally. If you believe your spouse or the children are deliberately trying to hurt you, it will make for a miserable family life.
What process would you advise couples to follow when combining families?
ES: 1) Take divorce off the table as an option. 2) Strengthen the foundation of your family — your marriage. 3) Read books, attended conferences, and get all the information you can about blended families. 4) Find a blended mentor couple. 5) Have regular family nights and family meetings. 6) Exercise patience, grace, kindness, and love every day. 7) Pray without ceasing.
When is a good time to introduce the children? How would you suggest introducing them?
DS: The best time to introduce the children to a potential mate and to his or her children is as soon as you know this is the one. Once you make the decision to be exclusive and the possibility of marriage is on the table, the children should be introduced. This allows for “dating” between your new love as well as their children with yours. It is important that friendships begin to form during the dating process. Blindsiding the children on the wedding day will backfire- we are living proof of that!
How did you get your children to accept their new family?
DS: Although we have been together for 13 years — married for 10, we are still trying to successfully blend. Children naturally want their mother and father to be together so accepting a step-parent is never easy. We are very intentional about creating new traditions in our home and creating an atmosphere of acceptance and openness. We have weekly family nights and regular family meetings just to do pulse checks and discuss challenges and celebrate wins. Even with all this in place, we still have our hiccups and moments of a blended mess!
What made the transition to a blended family so easy/difficult?
ES: We honestly had a very unrealistic view of what blending would look like. We fell in love with each other and were excited to begin a new life together. We naturally thought the kids would also fall in love and that we would be a big happy family. These unrealistic expectations really made the reality of being a blended family much more difficult.
How did you overcome the issue of the children having conflicts and turn your family into a loving unit?
DS: I came into this marriage with three children. Edward’s only child lives in Jamaica and we have no children together, so for our family, the only children were mine. We dealt with the typical sibling rivalry as the kids grew up. With the oldest child now a wife and mother raising a family of her own, we still have a 17-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son at home with plenty sibling rivalry and drama to keep us busy! We stress the importance of family, having one another’s back, and being there for each other.
How did you turn the challenges of blending families into a profitable business?
ES: We really don’t think of what we do as a business. It is a ministry. We honestly believe that God called us to do this work as a way to save our own marriage. We are still going through various challenges in our blended family but we are determined to stay and fight for our family and while we are fighting for ours, we want to empower others with the tools to fight for their families also.
What is the name of your radio show and how can readers listen in?
DS: Our ministry is called MEET THE SMITHS. We can be found across all the social media platforms and we also have a website, www.meetthesmiths.org. Our radio show airs every Tuesday night at 9 p.m. on www.gynesisradio.com. You can listen in and also call us live on air at 888-304-4401.