Clockwise, from bottom left: Andrew and Devin Parker, Chris Parker, Matthew Parker, Kim Parker, Nick Carmosino, Kelly Eckert, Mo Parker (with daughter Mia on her lap) and Ryan Eckert. Missing: Howie Eckert.
I have a lot of friends who are closing in on merging blended families together. Discussions with them remind me of some painful times when my husband and I tried to merge everyone together into one family 11 years ago. There were times when we didn’t all get along. But look at us now.
No experts had any great advice at that time. Some people advised that we would all get along eventually. Books and Intenet articles taught me next to nothing. I did discover one tidbit of info: An article advised that your kids would be respectful of their boyfriend or girlfriend’s family. They should be equally tolerant and respectful of stepfamily members. Good advice and something everyone can identify with — and solid recommendations for the future with in-laws. I’m no expert, but after 11 years of marriage, here are some other things that work:
1. Remember that every person is an individual with an opinion. When it comes to kids — you have rocked their worlds. No matter how old they are — you have changed everything for them. But on the flip side, those kids will have their own lives when the high school years start, and you will be relegated to a low priority. It’s a good thing — they grow up, and it doesn’t hurt to remind your kids of that. A lot of eyes opened around here when we asked if a concerned kid would prefer that Mom or Dad be all alone while they went off to school. Parents are adults and they deserve to be happy.
2. Find some common ground. Things like Krispy Kreme donuts, no-bakes, Rascal Flatts and Pop Tarts can bring a family together. This might sound ridiculous, but any common ground is good ground.
3. There will be times you don’t get along. Let it go. If you try too hard, you will make it worse. Believe me. We have some very strong personalities in this crew. We had months where someone didn’t speak to someone else. It might have been years. In the end, every one of the six kids has lived with us. We still have disagreements, but we can respect one another’s opinions.
4. Get help. Go see a professional counselor — if for nothing else than to vent to someone who is totally objective. I vented to family and friends with credentials. You’ll feel better, and you might realize that you are making more of something than you should. There are times that kids say hurtful things that cut deep. Really deep. But get over it. They are kids — even when they are adults! On the other hand, don’t force your kids to go to a counselor — they might see that as punishment. You might start a convo with a school counselor or teacher or family member or someone that you and your child mutually respect. You may need to work toward professional counseling, but kids need to know you want to help them — and a few sessions with a counselor can help just about anyone. No one should be miserable. Remind your kids of that.
5. Remind your kids that you love them no matter what. Start conversations with that, and end conversations with it. And share your feelings. If you feel neglected or hurt, share it one-on-one — sometimes when family members get busy, they aren’t necessarily ignoring you — they’re just strapped for time.
6. There are no perfect families. As the kids got older and shared some of the “behind the scenes” of families we thought were perfect, we all realized our imperfections aren’t so bad. “Modern Family’s” Gloria says it best: “Family may not be the same people you started with. It’s all the people you end up with.”
Finally — focus on the good stuff. Always. It will bring you all together. Although the bad stuff has brought us together in unity a few times. And it makes you cherish the good.
Pam Parker is the editor of Lake Erie LifeStyle, Her Times and House to Home at the Erie Times-News in Erie, Pa. She is mom to three, stepmom to three and GramPam to one.