While recently watching Mary Poppins with my toddler I came across the best description I have ever found for guiding a person on how to start fitting into a blended family. The children in the movie, Jane and Michael Banks (rascals that drove off many a mean nanny), took it upon themselves to write an advertisement for what they wanted in a nanny and, more importantly, how they wanted to be treated by the nanny. In my experience in a blended family and as a step-parent, I can say that children would appreciate the kindness and gentle guidance expressed in Jane and Michael’s advertisement; plus, children benefit from the strong boundaries (held gently, yet firmly) by Mary Poppins. It’s a great place to start:
“Wanted: a nanny for two adorable children:
If you want this choice position
Have a cheery disposition
Rosy cheeks, no warts
Play games, all sorts
You must be kind, you must be witty
Very sweet and fairly pretty (we’ll assume they meant on the inside)
Take us on outings, give us treats
Sing songs, bring sweets
Never be cross or cruel,
Never give us Castor oil or gruel
Love us as a son and daughter,
And never smell of barley water
If you won’t scold and dominate us,
We will never give you cause to hate us.
We won’t hide your spectacles, so you can’t see
Put toads in your bed or pepper in your tea
Hurry nanny, many thanks
Sincerely, Jane and Michael Banks.
A nanny is caregiver, someone who gives and cares, so is a step-parent. So start with those goals when you’re beginning to merge and wondering what your role should be in your blended family with your step-children. Regardless of your true feelings for your step-kids, or lack thereof, you’re a helper to the bio-parent(s) and should try to be a positive addition to the household. The bio-parent needs to do the heavy lifting with the step-parent’s support just as the bio-parent must support the step-parent’s wishes from behind the scenes to help make home a comfortable place for everyone. When the family has had more time together and some degree of mutual respect and trust has formed between the children and the step-parent, that’s when a step-parent may be able to assert a wider range of influence.
Though Mary Poppins is nearly perfect in every way, as a step-parent you’ll feel never perfect in almost all ways. When this happens look toward yourself and your behavior. Are you being kind to the family and to yourself? Or are you judging or picking fights? If your behavior is as kind and forgiving to your step-children as it would be to someone you wanted something from then you can rest assured you’re doing what you can to help move the relationship forward.
As adults we don’t remember how often we made mistakes as children and how often we were forgiven for breaking a family heirloom or perhaps acting out on hurt/confused feelings. There is a tendency to “adultify” children and expect too much – especially when the natural bonds of love have yet to be built. Giving kids the gift of “it’s okay, let’s try not to do this again in the future,” will help blend your family in a good direction rather than pushing kids away with an irate and out of control monologue. As Mary Poppins states, “… I am kind, but extremely firm.” Blended families, may Mary Poppins be with you.