The Question Marks of Blended Family Life
You can’t predict how a blended family will develop. When we started dating, I wondered how Todd’s kids and mine would blend. Thanks to their ages (the younger ones are six months apart and the older ones are 21 months apart) and shared interests, they immediately bonded, and those bonds have grown steadily over time. What does the future hold for their relationships?
They’ve figured out so much about each other with little interference from Todd and I. Our time-sharing agreements with our exes mean that we have overlapping schedules where the kids are all with us together some of the time. Free play at our house every other weekend is really all they’ve needed to flourish as a foursome. If that doesn’t seem like a lot of time together, consider this: If your children had friends outside their family that they played with for 48 hours twice a month, they would become oriented to each other. Add in the family tie and the connection is even stronger.
There have also been ways that we’ve provided guidance to help our kids recognize us as a blended family. One example: sending our little girls to the same preschool was a choice made in part because we wanted to facilitate their relationships. They don’t have the same teachers, but sharing the same curriculum, recess time and schoolmates has provided more of a foundation for their friendship than they’d have if they went to different preschools.
Here’s Xander and Ella three years ago, getting to know each other shortly after they first met.
Being a blended family doesn’t just mean that our kids love each other. In the past few years, I’ve had to figure out my relationship with Todd’s daughters, and he’s had to figure out his relationship with my children. Grappling with stepparenting is definitely one of the most challenging aspects of our blended family life, but with our kids still being so young and willing to adapt to having stepparents, even that hasn’t been too tough. Looking forward, we know from talking to our more seasoned friends that the teen years will present greater stepparenting issues, and we’ll have to be strong, patient and smart to manage the kids well.
As challenging as stepparenting can be, the wear and tear of one or two angry exes can put even more strain on blended family life. As Miriam Novogradsky (great name!!) wisely said in her article for Huffington Post. “You are never divorced if children are involved.”
There’s always that other parent there, respectfully observing or actively tearing away at your blended family life–or many points in between. There are the exes I call “blended family deniers” who refuse to accept that your blended family exists. Worse yet, there are the tempestuous litigators, looking for opportunities to use the legal system to diminish your blended family. Thankfully, there are also the decent exes who keep the peace and carry on with their own lives without acting threatened by yours–but are still willing to partner with you in raising the kids you made together. However good or bad the situation, there’s someone there, someone you used to be very intimate with, and someone with whom things went wrong (you’re divorced, right?)–and due to emotion and ego, things can get wonky two, seven and even 20 years after the divorce. This someone has the power to impact many aspects of your blended family.
If you have a difficult relationship with your ex, you never know when his or her threats will become a reality and you’ll land in court to battle their perceptions of your parenting. While you hope that your ex upholds you and your new partner in all conversations with the children, it’s possible you’re being maligned–and you can’t control it. Even if you trust and admire your or your partner’s ex’s parenting, you can’t fully know what your kids are up to when they are with their other parents. As an attached and caring parent or stepparent, that’s hard to accept. You want to be there for them 24/7, but time sharing prevents it. All of these question marks and grey areas can make blended family life feel pretty insecure.
I’m working on an article about how to manage these unknowns. How do you deal with them? Do you have techniques that help you stay calm when the ride is bumpy? I’d love to hear from you.
Sarah Kinbar is co-founder of Big Blended Family, Inc. She’s a proud mom in a blended family, and has two kids and two stepkids. She works at a flower shop and also freelances as a writer and editor.