This past weekend all four of our boys came to visit, and it was a great success. And what’s so remarkable about that? First of all, they are not blood brothers–two are mine and two are my husband’s. Secondly, they are young adults and have full lives outside of ours. Thirdly, have you ever tried to put your kids together with your friends’ kids, suggest they hang out for four days and expect them to get along?? Frankly, as a young adult, I would have rebelled outright would that proposition have been thrust upon me. I would have preferred to hang out with my friend’s family rather than have to deal with the new or even forced dynamics of my own step-family. Making a blended family holiday weekend work is surely daunting.
My parents got divorced when I was 19 and when my dad remarried a few years later, I attempted a few visits to their home. I remember the visits to be uncomfortable; they left me feeling like an outsider. I believe the problem was we were visiting “her” home and we were “his” children. It all felt like an experiment gone wrong. My best visits with my dad were away from their nest.
My husband and I have spent a lot of time talking about how to make our boys feel welcome and at home in our home. A smooth blending of adult kids in a new marriage is not to be taken for granted! Truthfully, after the age of 6, maybe 12, and certainly by 18, we parents aren’t really the ones calling the shots as to who our kids hang with. You know the expression, you can’t choose your relatives but you can pick your friends. Well, I guess this adage has spillover into the blended family category. The kids can actually choose whether or not they want to hang out with their new Bro’s. And, if they aren’t into it, the risk of them not visiting again is high. Since we both LOVE being with our boys, that’s a huge risk we wanted to avoid.
As my husband and I are about to celebrate our 5th anniversary this September, we have learned over these five years what really works best for our family get-togethers. My youngest was 19, and my eldest not yet graduated from college when we got married, and his boys were 26 and 28 years old. The boys were at totally different stages in their lives.
So, what may appear as a natural family get-together, a weekend of us all just chilling, is not actually so casual of a coming together. These boys didn’t choose to be with one another–my husband and I chose each other–and they are left to figure out how to make their step-brotherhood work.
After the family weekend, my husband and I sat, exhausted but content, with our morning coffee reflecting on what worked. We were proud of the way it had all turned out and wanted to make sure we could replicate this as we lay the groundwork for our new family traditions.
- The Home Itself: – Establishing a home reflecting new beginnings — a place that is neither mine nor my husband’s–one we started together in our new marriage. A clean slate, a new environment in which they are welcome.
- Group Play: Creating traditions in the home that they can count on, meaning plenty of activities including lots of games. (Emphasis on Baggo, Frisbee, and whiffle ball and scrabble.)
- Lots of Food/Drink: A full refrigerator of burgers, hot dogs, chips, and beer is the surest way to make the kids feel welcome.
- Domestic Responsibility: Giving the kids responsibility as participants in making the whole domestic experience work – including the Three G’s: grilling, garbage and gardening.
- Respect: Creating an environment where the kids are encouraged to become part of the family unit means that they are willing to be responsible for how the weekend plays out. The success is to a large part…in their court. They know that being respectful of each other, partying well together, playing and sharing the living space and honoring the credo that each one is entitled to be part of the family unit is key.
- Alone Time: Spending special alone time with each of our kids separately. My husband goes out to breakfast with his boys–I take bike and jeep rides with mine.
- Parent Recovery: Making sure that once they have left – you have at least 24 hours of relationship recovery. This includes plenty of sleep, cleaning time, and most importantly…romance!