While Tammy and I prepared for marriage and the blending of our large families, I would often take time off in the evenings to step into our children’s imaginative world of play. With the boys, I would be transported into the world of superheroes, where good always triumphed and evildoers should beware. With our girls, the old trampoline would become a glorious Olympic ice skating venue as we danced, twirled, and performed flawless side-by-side double axles to the roar of the crowd. Long after we married, we recognized how important those playtimes were to successful blending.
Ron Deal, author of The Smart Stepfamily, says that blended families form primarily through death or divorce. Taking families who have been through this kind of trauma and creating a home where children can thrive and heal takes not only blending, but also bonding. The Webster’s dictionary defines bonding as, simply, “the formation of a close relationship, especially through frequent or constant association.” Sharing special playtimes with our children and stepchildren gives us this frequent association and allows us to cross the barrier from our practical adult life into their all-things-are-still-possible world, and for that moment we bond.
Here are some simple steps that we can take as stepparents to begin playtime bonding:
Set aside a special playtime with each child. That means laying down our responsibilities, and sometimes our pride, and stepping intentionally into a child’s world of imagination and care-free exuberance.
Be open to what the child wants to show you, not what you want to show the child. There are times for being a teacher and there are times for becoming a student. Know when to be the student.
Make a conscious decision to go all-in with your child. Be willing to pretend you're an evil villain or an Olympic figure skater, or to try something new – whatever it takes to share in your child’s world. Tammy went all-in with some of our children on a hiking trail she had never been on. Three emergency calls and four hours later, she was finally all-out! Our kids have never forgotten that time, and neither have I, for that matter.
Always end with special words for that child. When our girls and I finished our Olympic routines and the rink had once again faded back into an old, rusted trampoline, I always shared a moment with them to give them my own version of a gold medal and let them now how special and meaningful they are to me.
Our blended family has grown up quickly. And while our children may be moving on, there is still a part of us that goes with them, bonded permanently in their memory of superheroes and Olympic venues. Can you hear the crowd cheering? I can.