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6 Helpful Tips for Common Problems in Blended Families

Learn from a therapist couple on how to face the everyday challenges that come with step-parenting, divorce, and new marriages in blended families.

Blended family sitting together at a cafe looking for tips for blended families
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When Scott and Vanessa Martindale from Colleyville, Texas, faced problems as a family, they weren’t sure where to go for advice or tips for blended families.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a blended family, or stepfamily, is “a family that includes children of a previous marriage of one spouse or both.” A blended family can include stepparents, stepchildren, step-grandparents, and ex-spouses who still co-parent together.

Both Scott and Vanessa were familiar with the concept. They grew up in blended families; but now they were dealing with challenges as a married couple with a blended family of their own. Vanessa was going through a heated litigation with her ex-husband. Meanwhile, Scott was struggling as a new stepparent to Vanessa’s young son, Michael.

“We have strong faith, so we’d reached out to our church looking for resources for stepfamilies,” Vanessa told Guideposts.org. “However, we couldn’t find anything. Unfortunately, at the time, there were not a lot of resources for blended families.”

As Scott and Vanessa worked through their issues— and learned valuable lessons along the way— they decided to use their experience to make things easier for others. “We felt like the Lord put [it] on our heart,” Vanessa said. “What we went through is something that He could use to help other families like ours.”

The Martindales created Blended Kingdom Families, a ministry that offers resources and community for those in blended families. “Our ministry and story encourage other families to look at their blended family through a Biblical lens,” Scott said. “We give them practical solutions for how to deal with stress and uncertainty.”

Here are Scott and Vanessa’s top tips for blended families:

1. Find the Communication that Works Best

Every family is different. Sometimes people get along well, sometimes they can’t stand to be in the same room together. When it comes to blended families, particularly ex-spouses who share custody of a child, there can be a lot of high emotions and miscommunication. Therefore, the Martindales recommend finding the form of communication that works best for your situation.

“Just go inch by inch,” Scott said. “Do one thing at a time that exemplifies good communication.” This can be anything from active listening to working together to find a compromise. Scott says parents can unfortunately fall into the habit of talking to each other through their children. “Keep the communication between you and the other parent. Don’t try to use your child as the messenger.”

However, if you are not at the point where you can talk with your child’s other parent on the phone or see them in person, there are resources to help you work through that. “There are different apps where you can upload your child’s schedule, send medical bills, and communicate via text,” Vanessa said. She recommends My Family Wizard or The Family Core. You can also utilize a family facilitator, who is trained to help blended families through the ups and downs of custody issues.

2. Prioritize Your Marriage

Another common issue that couples with children from past marriages can face is not giving their current marriage the attention it needs. Vanessa says this can often manifest out of a parent wanting to focus on their children after the trauma of a divorce. “Oftentimes you’ll see someone put their children’s needs before their spouse’s needs and it causes a lot of disunity in the marriage.”

There is always room for balance and quality time can be a good way to find that balance. Vanessa recommends spending time alone with your spouse every week, even for just an hour. “Maybe in the evening after the kids go to bed,” she said. “[Have] face to face, intentional time, all distractions set aside. No phones or laptops.”

Committing time and energy to your marriage can even help your children move past the discomfort and sadness they felt around the divorce. “If a divorce hurt your children,” Scott said, “a healthy marriage can be what will help heal them.”

3. Parent Together

Parenting can be a challenge for anyone, let alone a new stepparent who is entering the role with little experience. This was the case for Scott, who had never been a parent before becoming a stepdad to Vanessa’s son. For the Martindales, step-parenting was made so much easier when both Vanessa and Scott had a say in their son’s life, whether it was about schedules or discipline.

Scott and Vanessa Martindale give tips for blended families
Scott and Vanessa Martindale

“Decisions should not be made in a vacuum of one parent,” Scott said. “There needs to be unity in those decisions.”

In terms of the stepparent and stepchild’s relationship, quality time together can be a great way to build a strong relationship. Scott makes sure to spend an equal amount of time with his stepson as he does with his biological sons. Vanessa says this made all the difference and even became a huge blessing in their home.

“Oftentimes stepparents get this bad rap, like they’re the evil stepmom or stepdad,” she said. “But they’re really this person that is stepping in and committing to not only loving their new spouse, but also to help raise these children in a way that is honoring and loving.”

4. Plan for Holidays

Holidays can be a difficult time for many blended families. Whether they are trying to sit down to Christmas dinner or organize a family cookout on the 4th of July, families will need to make tough decisions. The Martindales advise how much planning ahead can make these decisions easier and more civil. Sit down at the beginning of the year and plan out how you will spend each holiday and where. This will also help to make the holiday more enjoyable for your children.

“Children thrive in environments of structure and routine,” Vanessa said. “Having a plan will help prevent a lot of anxiety.”

It’s also important to remember that you might not have the ideal holiday plan you were hoping for. Compromises are an inevitable part of planning. Focusing on the time you do have together will help you forget the back and forth and create some wonderful memories.

“The most anxiety in blended families, as it relates to the holidays, is when someone is not available,” said Scott. “The more grace that you could show during that holiday season, the better the year will be moving forward.”

5. Be Understanding with Each Other

Inflexibility is another common obstacle that blended families can face. If difficult decisions need to be made, they aren’t made any easier by people who are unwilling to work together. Furthermore, as blended families evolve, family members need to be prepared to adjust their lives.

“The uniqueness of blended families is that they change over time,” said Scott. “The way your blended family reacts when you have a five-year-old or a 10-year-old or a 16-year-old… The opportunity to be flexible is going to be a huge relief.”

Finding patience with her ex-husband was a huge step for Vanessa. For her, prayer was a vital part of listening to what God wanted for her and her blended family. “I asked God what He wanted me to do,” she said. “He said ‘I want you to love him the way that I see and love him.’ That was hard. I had to surrender all my anger and resentment. Instead of blaming everything on my ex-husband, I had to look at myself and the things I had done.” This brought her to a place of better understanding with her ex-husband. They now peacefully co-parent their son together.

6. Look Through the Biblical Lens

An important aspect of the Martindale’s ministry is looking at what the Bible says about blended families. Vanessa says the most logical place to look first is Jesus’ family.

“Jesus came from a blended family,” she said. “Joseph in the Bible was not his biological father. I think it’s a beautiful representation of how Joseph loved Mary and loved Jesus as his very own son.” Vanessa also compares how Jesus’ seeks us out to how stepparents seek out their stepchildren. Even in the face of any resentment a stepchild may feel, a stepparent can love them through it.

“Despite the anger they may get from their stepchild,” she said, “they should be steadfast in the pursuit of that love. The Bible talks about that a lot. How Jesus is steadfast and pursues us as his children.”

Scott learned to rely on God during their most difficult times, either through prayer, counseling, or simply letting go. “I now understand that surrendering to God was an answer,” he said, “I began letting Him work out a solution.”

Scott Martindale is a licensed professional therapist with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a master’s degree in Counseling and Human Development. Vanessa Martindale is a registered nurse and currently pursuing a master’s degree as a Marriage and Family therapist. They are founders of Blended Kingdom Families and the authors of Blended and Redeemed: The Go-To Field Guide for the Modern Family.

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