Normally, people have years to develop a rapport with their parents, siblings, and extended family. When couples divorce, however, and then re-marry others with children from previous relationships, they create what we call “blended family” situations. These are not easy, even under the best of circumstances, mainly because the stakes are high to make sure everyone gets along– we cannot just walk away from these individuals that are now part of our family– and we are forced to face some of our inner most fears: 1) fear of rejection, 2) fear of being misunderstood or 3) fear of not having our love reciprocated.

It takes time to develop an understanding of one another and find appropriate ways to communicate effectively and express our love for each other. While we process this information, it helps to have some quiet time to ourselves and space to decompress. Unfortunately, in most blended family situations, once the families merge, there may be very little time or space for processing. Especially when young children are involved, I urge people to move slowly and to take time out to help children express and understand their feelings. Normalizing the situation, without passing judgment on whatever they say will go a long way in helping them feel safe.

Dealing with various personalities at once can be overwhelming, even for adults, let alone children. In my particular case, where I have found my family after decades, there is much to rejoice, yet I know I have to proceed cautiously for my son’s sake. As excited as we are to have all these wonderful new people in our lives, I have worked hard to pace the reunification process and give him time to take it all in slowly. I try to check in with him so he knows I care about his feelings, and that he is still my favorite little guy. We do not have an established history with the rest of the family, so we all need to work together to figure out our new family dynamics.

Navigating emotions is never easy, but the payoff can be great. Strangers may come and go throughout our lives, but a loving, supportive family is typically the key to raising healthy, well-adjusted children that will continue to come home for the holidays, etc. long after they have formed their own separate lives. Blended families are challenging, but also immensely rewarding– not just for the children, but their parents, who no longer have to feel like they are shouldering the weight of the world all alone.

Blended families offer us all a second chance at finding true happiness through unconditional acceptance, understanding and love. Ties with anyone else can always be severed quite easily, but not family connections. The bonds that will last are the ones that are worth our time and attention, and true friends will understand this simple fact. These days, I am particularly grateful to my core group that has patiently allowed me to focus on that which matters to me most, and those that don’t get it are simply a lost cause as far as I am concerned.

By Regina A. DeMeo