Posted on Jun 29, 2019
Editor's Note: This article on blended families is part of a summer series we are producing on "Marriage and Families - A Multifaceted Landscape." We will be covering Prophetic examples of marriages, traditional marriages in modern times, the post-divorce landscape, single parenting and other topics from a Muslim-centric perspective. Check into the blog throughout the summer to read our series.
By Nargis Rahman
Erum Mohiuddin is an educator, a community activist, former school principal and mother to seven children - four are her own, ages 13, 15, 16 and 18, and three are her husband’s ages 13, 16, and 19. Erum became part of her blended family last year when she and her husband married, moved away from their respective communities and built a new life together in Washington, where they could spend another few years with their kids prior to them finishing high school and going away to college.
Blended families are more and more common across the U.S. and in Muslim communities. The Pew Research Center reports "traditional" family set-ups have changed since the 1960s in the U.S. when the major family structure was a two-parent home through marriage with biological children. And, according to the Stepfamily.org, the U.S. Bureau of Census reports that about 50 percent of all U.S. families are remarried or re-coupled while the National Center for Family & Marriage Research found that 63 percent of marriages include stepchildren.
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In Muslim communities, whereas blended families used to primarily be made up of a person with children and one without children marrying, now it is more common for two divorcees with children to marry and blend their unique families. While there are many challenges in blended families - from logistics, parenting styles and discipline - Erum says there is also an opportunity for reward in creating a healthy faith-based Muslim American family.
Reflecting on her first year of remarriage, she says, “We have ... assessed our family and parenting situation, [and] we both feel we have accomplished many firsts for our family. We have one year’s experience and memories. We both have something to draw on that is completely our blended family.”
An article on livestrong.com touts blended families, saying such families can improve financial stability as well as extend support groups with loving family members. Dr. Renato Roxas is a pediatrician and the Interim Chief, Division of General Internal Medicine at the Wayne State University School of Medicine. He says, “If a relationship is good, it can enhance a child’s upbringing, especially if they don’t have close relationships with their other parent who isn’t in the house. Even if they have a strong relationship, I’ve seen where people are psyched to have two dads. They can have fun in both houses.”
In Muslim communities there can be challenges even before becoming a blended family stemming from separation or divorce being frowned upon in many circles to having a lack of public resources and support for divorced women. (There is a Facebook page dedicated to Muslim blended families.) Marriage is high equity in Muslim communities, and when things go awry people may be hesitant to encourage or support divorce. This can further snowball into continuing lack of support when divorcees remarry and blend their families.
Erum says having to divorce is hard enough without people making judgments. “I think people should understand that women going through a divorce are not a disease. They are not tainted and do need friendship, help, confidence and support.”
During the Prophet Muhammad’s (saw) time, remarriage wasn’t uncommon and was also encouraged. Khadija was remarried for the third time to Muhammad (saw) after she proposed to him through a friend. Often, families were brought together through these kinds of marriages. Consider the following 12 tips if you or someone you know are entering into a blended family marriage!
Parenting Tips for Blended Families
1. Have an open door communication policy. Make sure you’re all ears and are willing to listen and learn. Spouses will each bring emotional baggage to the table. You will be learning how to trust each other as well as building a new life together. Discuss how the children will play a role in the new family dynamics. Set aside time to talk with your spouse each day.
Erum says, “One thing that my husband and I made a vow to do was communicate each night about our days happenings - what went right, wrong, what needed to improve, concerns and preparation for things to come.”
2. Approach family decisions through an Islamic perspective. As Muslims, we believe that Allah helps those who help themselves. Keep Allah at the center of your family. Purify your intentions of marriage and parenting for the sake of Allah. In an article for Muslim Matters, Olivia Mounet describes the roles of a stepparent in the element of a blended family being three-fold: Having a relationship with your spouse, the stepchlid(ren) and your spouse’s ex. While there is no “right” way to approach becoming a stepparent, Mounet said, and there are some hard truths to swallow coupled with the joy of being with someone you love.
3. Pray istikhara, the guidance prayer, and make lots of dua! Remarrying and raising children who are not yours is a huge responsibility. Seek clarity from Allah through worship and try your best to do what’s best for you, your children and the new children in your family.
Dr. Renato Roxas' children - biological and stepchildren.
4. Schedule family time. Implement activities that become new rituals for opportunities to bond. For Erum, her family prays in jamaat (congregation) at home and has dinner together when everyone is home. Renato said his family used to have weekly family meetings. This evolved into having dinner together and spending the weekends together as family, among other things.
5. Support your spouse. Create a pact between each other that you will bring the concerns of each the biological family to the table. Keep a united front as much as possible with the children. Renato is a stepfather to two daughters, and has two biological children with his wife. Renato says supporting your spouse in front of the children is important in setting the tone at home.
6. Model respectful behavior. Teach and practice respect with your new family members. Discuss the roles of family members in the home and show respect to one another. When you’re combining multiple families together, you are also combining various ways of living, different versions of practicing faith and even what to eat and when!
7. Discipline with respect. Erum says it’s important to work together to discipline the children to show cohesiveness in the parental relationship. Discipling children primarily falls on who the biological parent is in that situation, however the couple should discuss when it may be okay to discipline the stepchildren. Discuss any changes with your spouse before implementing it with the children. For example, Renato said there are certain matters he strictly lets his wife handle. Parents should also keep in mind the ages and maturity of the children.
Erum says communicating with your spouse is one step in understanding how to go about it. “We had to talk things through a lot and understand where our kids were coming from and that the bottom line was, we cared about each other’s kids and wanted what was best. With that common denominator set, we were able to handle situations as they arose.”
8. Apologize. Prepare for mistakes. Saying sorry when you mess up is important. Renato said in his home, they usually practice a rule to apologize before going to bed to not allow anyone to go to bed angry.
Renato says being a part of a blended family has, “it’s wonderful moments, hard moments, and uniquely wonderful moments.”
9. Be mindful of mental health. Stress, anxiety, depression, and trauma (such as the case where a child is grieving a parent who is deceased, not involved or has abused them in the previous family scenario) are normal elements people will bring to the table in a blended family. Prepare to stabilize the home by providing support to each other and connecting family members to resources.
Image source: Pinterest
10. Allow children to be children. While a blended family is a joint effort, parents and step-parents will have to work around the children’s individual and collective needs. While it is the parents’ responsibility to create an atmosphere of love and care in the home, it is the responsibility of the children to be respectful of everyone. It is not the children’s job to be accommodating to everyone.
11. Consider premarital counseling. Prior to getting married to one another, go to counseling together to discuss the unique circumstances your marriage will bring on. Discuss the challenges of raising a blended family and how you plan to address them. Talk to other blended families for perspective.
Renato and his wife attended premarital counseling through his church. They were connected to other couples who were step-parents prior to the marriage process. He says, people should not be afraid of marrying someone if they have children. “I think that if the person you fall in love has kids, that the potential fears of a blended family should absolutely not dissuade you from being with them.”
12. Connect with resources. Erum said facing all the changes in her life took a toll on her health. She decided to connect with a friend, who is also a stepmom, and ask for tips. Her friend suggested reading the book, “Stepmonster: A New Look at Why Real Stepmothers Think, Feel, and Act the Way We Do” by Wednesday Martin, which helped her understand her unique circumstances and tap into her skillset to tackle her challenges.
Renato said at times the job can be challenging and children in these homes will test the parents’ boundaries. However, he says there are also moments where raising stepchildren is rewarding and can be a means to happiness for the children. He said, “Last Father’s Day the oldest gave me this card, and she wrote out a whole thing thanking me for being her father and basically raising her as my own and treating her as if we were blood related. It was really nice. It’s a card that you keep and look at when you need some uplifting.”
Defining what is “family” for the children can be fraught with challenges, and so it’s important to keep their best interests at heart while building a new life. Erum says she was often told that she should love her spouse’s children like her own and be patient to succeed in stepparenting.
Blended families come with their unique challenges and opportunities. Muslims need to draw upon the Prophetic sunnah of helping people and embracing different kinds of families. While we should work hard in creating strong marriages, we also need to be more open-minded about separation, divorce and making it easier for two families to come together in blended families.
Check back on the blog for more in our series,"Marriage and Families - A Multifaceted Landscape," and share your stories and feedback below!