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The 9 steps to make a blended family work.

It was the first ‘gathering’ I had at home as a teenager. I had instructed mum that she was to stay upstairs in her room and watch T.V, while I had my friends over. I had also instructed her that ‘he’ was not to come.

Once my 20 or so friends had arrived and mum had greeted them at the door, I ushered her upstairs to her bedroom and thanked her. I gave myself an internal hi-five, everything was going to plan.

Until… ‘he’ arrived.

My stepdad walked through the front door with sausages in his hand and I couldn’t believe it. He didn’t stop there, he came outside to greet all my friends and all my friends started to greet him. “Hi Mr. Dawson, how are you?”

I sat there fuming. Giving my friends the eyes (you know the bulgy eyes you give people when you really want them to shut up? Yeah, those ones). Why would he do this? I told him I didn’t need him to bring food. He isn’t my dad! Stop trying to be my dad.

"He isn’t my dad!" Image via 'Blended', Warner Bros. 

Why did mum invite him? Was it mums personal mission to see me squirm with discomfort and awkwardness?

Of course not, we were both navigating our way through our new ‘normal’ and we didn’t have a road map for directions.

Blended families have become the ‘modern family’ of our generation and let me tell you, it’s not always easy to navigate them. But, it is very possible.

1 Communicate.

The first step: open up the lines of communication. This is the back bone to blending families.

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Watch the trailer for 'Blended'. Post continues below. 

Video by Warner Bros

I know this one seems obvious, but you would be surprised at how much it is avoided.

Communication can be awkward and uncomfortable in some situations but negotiating a way to get along together sometimes, is all you need. You’d probably be surprised, and I'd put money on the table that at least someone else in your blend feels the same way you do.

2. Decide on labels early.

It is always awkward when you’re with your step relative and a friend says ‘so who do we have here?’ and you stagger in silence to quickly think of something to call them (all while you could cut the awkward tension with a butter knife).
We all have nicknames in our biological families and similarly we must have them in our blended families. The key to this is making sure all parties are happy with them.

Decide on titles/ labels based on the dynamics of your blended family. Some common ones are: mamma/pappa [fill in your name], Mrs/Mr [whatever-their-first-name-is] or their first name.

3. Be open minded.

You might be thinking that this one is a little clichéd but being open minded is a game changer.

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"Decide on titles/ labels based on the dynamics of your blended family." The ULTIMATE blended family. Image via The Brady Bunch, Paramount Domestic Television. 

Keep your mind open to ideas while avoiding creating scenarios in your head. Attempt to put yourself out of your thinking comfort zone. After all, blending families together is going to be different, however, different does not mean disastrous.

It is very easy to have a preconceived idea of the way your blended family is going to ‘blend’, however, you need to ask yourself: is this true? The answer is: probably not. Avoid getting too caught up in your head and remember that everyone is in the same boat as you. As long as you try not rock it, you’ll be okay.

4. Remind yourself that everyone deserves happiness.

This one works both ways.

Kids: remember that your parents deserve to be happy. You want them to be happy, right? Don’t be too hard on them. They are still finding their footing too. Remember, you’ll never be replaced by another step-sibling or parent, it is an added bonus to the family that you already have.

Parents: while you pursue your happiness remember to make sure your kids are finding theirs too. Be encouraging and positive, if they see that you are happy, they are more likely to be happy too.

5. Embrace the awkward situations.

Awkward situations. Yep, there will be many.

"Embrace the awkward situations." Image via iStock. 

Calling your step-parent ‘mum’ or ‘dad’, I have to tell you, it will happen. Having people think your step-sibling is your partner? Yep, that might happen too. Don’t take it too seriously and don’t let the awkwardness overpower you. Laugh it off, because awkward situations will happen.

(refer to number 9.)

6. Respect space and privacy.

Blending families together can be overwhelming. It is important to respect not only the space and privacy of your family, but also your own.

Allow yourself to have some ‘me time’ and remember that everyone else may need that from time-to-time too.

7. Set boundaries.

Sometimes we need a reality check, you are not going to instantly be a cohesive family, so set boundaries to help you get there.

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Talk to your partner and set boundaries between you. Co-parenting step-children can be difficult but no one knows your children better than you do.

"You are not going to instantly be a cohesive family." Image via 'Stepmom', Columbia Pictures.

(Refer to number 1.)

8. Focus on individual relationships.

It can be easy to fall into the eagerness trap (of being “one big happy family”) early on, however, taking things slow and learning to appreciate each member of the family individually is often a better method.

Set aside time to do activities one-on-one tailored to the personality of each different family member. Get to know them, learn to appreciate who they are and what they like and dislike as an individual.

Take this as an opportunity to find common interests. Thirty minutes to an hour a week is all you need.

9. Use laughter.

Laughter is the best medicine. Laugh at the awkwardness of new situations and encounters, don’t be too serious and keep things simple and light hearted as much as possible.

Side note: Remember there is no such thing as perfect. Find your own version of perfect and make it work for you.

Blending my family with my step-father's family has turned out to be the biggest bonus I have received, one that money can’t buy.

Happy family blending.

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