For the last year and eight months, Jennifer has been seeing Matthew, who has five kids of his own. Although they're serious, the couple doesn't live together. "We're taking a very long time," Matthew says. "She still has her home and her family time, and I have my home and my family time, and that's just how it works right now."
So what's it like when all nine kids get together? "It depends, the moods change so much. One child can have a really hard time of wanting to be with them, and sometimes we all get along so well," Matthew says.
Gary says blended families take a lot of thought and planning. Here are three simple ideas to make those families work:
- Create new family traditions. "This family needs something new to work around. So you have the Saturday night movie night that, no matter what, we're all going to be together," he says. "A great idea is family dinner night about a certain country. So certain kids are cooking that country's food, certain kids are getting the music, certain ones are making the flag. That way we're all doing something together and we're creating something new that makes this family unique."
- Only the biological parent should discipline. "This is a big mistake a lot of people make. And I daresay there are a lot of men who kind of go off and leave their wives, the new step-mom, to do a lot of things with the kids. Don't put yourself in that position because every single kid will look at that step-mom and say, 'Who died and made you boss?'"
- Use similar rules for same-aged children. "Keep in mind, you could have two 13-year-olds—one's used to going out until 2 a.m., and the other one's used to going out and has to be home at 11 p.m—that's going to become complicated," Gary says. "So as two parents, you have to sit down and say, 'How are we going to change the rules so they are more common for all of our children?'"
Another thing Gary says parents need to be aware of is that not all your children are brothers and sisters. "Sometimes they become a little fond of each other and people say, 'Oh no, they're just brothers and sisters.' They're not," Gary says. "There are teenagers who are step-siblings who could really like each other. And that's why the rules of walking around the house, perhaps in your underwear or whatever, that might work with blood siblings, but that's not something you want to do. You want to really watch those limitations and be respectful of those issues in your household."
Gary says blended families should take things in stages. For example, Kaylah told Gary that she really liked Matt because he didn't immediately act like their dad and tell them what to do. "I like for step-parents to think of themselves in the beginning as a lovely aunt or uncle—I'm here for great advice if you want to have fun. I'm not here to tell you what to do all the time," Gary says.