Inspiring Way ’80s Star Danica McKellar Makes Her Blended Family Work

Actress Danica McKellar opened up this week about how she and her second husband tackle blending their families — they each came to the marriage with a son — and experts say plenty of parents would do well to follow their lead.

In an interview with People, McKellar said that in her current marriage to attorney Scott Sveslosky, there’s more to focus on than just husband and wife. “It’s not just being in love, and it’s not just about you,” she said. “Especially for us, [it was] blending our families. We both each had a son already — his is 11, mine is 5 — and so there’s that dynamic of figuring out, ‘How do we do this? How do you balance togetherness with also making sure that you honor the separate relationships that were established for years before the family blended?’ And I think that’s really important.”

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Actress Danica McKellar and her 5-year-old son Draco. (Photo: Instagram/Danica McKellar)

Not all parents come into a remarriage with that attitude, says Mary T. Kelly, a psychotherapist who specializes in working with stepfamilies. “When people get married and try to integrate families they often spend a lot of time insisting on ‘family time,’” Kelly tells Yahoo Parenting. “But it takes four to six years for step-families to become comfortable with each other, and one of the most common complaints from stepchildren is that they don’t get enough time with their parents. They didn’t get any choice in the new family, and even if they like who their parent picked, they don’t want to feel like they’ve lost their place in the relationship with their mom or dad.”

McKellar said she and Sveslosky tackle the challenge by carving out time for each parent to be alone with their child. “We make sure, usually on Friday nights, it’s just me and Draco, and it’s just Scott and Hunter. They’ll go somewhere, and we’ll do our own thing,” she told People. “We really want to make sure that our kids understand that we’re not just going to throw them into something, but we really also want to respect their feelings and the relationship that they’ve known so long.”

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Paulette Janus, a social worker who provides therapy, family mediation and co-parent coaching, tells Yahoo Parenting that McKellar is spot-on in her approach. “This way, the kids know they still have that special relationship with their parent,” she says. “It’s not gone or misplaced. Their household may have changed – there are more people now – but knowing that they aren’t losing their mom or dad is the most important thing to put kids at ease.”

The most important thing that couples embarking on a blended family can do is have patience, Kelly says. “So many people jump into their new family and say ‘this doesn’t feel blended, what are we doing wrong?’ But they aren’t doing anything wrong, they are just putting non-biologically related people together in a family with no time to adjust,” she says. “For adults who are in love, they think ‘our love will conquer this and the kids will have more people to love them’ and then they impose family time, which can be stressful and feel fake and phony.”

Pop culture doesn’t help either, Kelly says, citing shows like The Brady Bunch, where a blended family came together with seemingly no problems. “The Brady Bunch is literally an insane model,” she says. “It was a TV show, where the biological parents were dead and these people had money and a nanny. It wasn’t reality. Carol and Mike were a good couple, and I grew up watching them, but the reality is if you threw six kids together and some of them were teenagers, they would be having sex with each other. People need to give up their fantasies.”

Recognizing and accepting the difficulties of blending a family is vital, Janus says. “Remember, the children are starting this relationship most often from a place of insecurity, mistrust, fear, and unknown,” Janus says. “They are coming from a very different place than where the adults are coming to the relationship from.”

Aside from carving out time with kids, parents in remarriages need to carve out time for each other, Kelly says. “They have to have date night,” she says. “There is a really high divorce rate in remarriages with kids — 62 to 74 percent of remarriages with children end in divorce, because making it work is very complicated. Date night may also be challenging for people who only have their children 50 percent of the time, because they want to take advantage of every moment they have with that kid. But it’s a good model for children, to see that in order to have a healthy marriage you need time alone. It’s important for children to see that, even if it’s just for a few hours. Kids feel more secure if they see the adults’ relationship is solid.”

(Top photo: Jon Kopaloff/Filmmagic)

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