When Deb and I married in 1995, minimal thought was given to the fact we were blending two families. Deb had been married to Al and was co-parenting two sons. I had been married to Sue and was co-parenting a son and a daughter. Deb and I married because we were in love, and while we were aware that our decision to marry would impact our children, we expected the blending process to be smooth and automatic.
Twenty-two years later, I can say I am pleased with where we are in the blending process, but it hasn’t always been smooth and certainly not automatic. Along the way, Deb and I learned some pointers that made the process of blending our family less problematic and more effective. While every family is unique and different, some of these pointers may be helpful to others.
First— Don’t try to force or hurry the blending process
Some experts state that it takes seven years for the blending process to be complete. I have concluded that the blending process is never complete. I no longer talk about “blended families.” I prefer the term “blending families” because it is a never-ending process.
As our four children have grown, married and produced children of their own, our blending family has grown. With each new addition to the family, adjustments are required. As each child and grandchild moves into a new phase of life, adjustments are essential. Life is never static, and the process of blending is an ongoing process.
Second— Each person in a blending family needs to determine his or her role
Depending on the ages of the children and the relationships they have or do not have with biological parents, one determines what his/her role needs to be. Deb and I both recognized early in the blending process that our children were in their teen years and had existing relationships with their biological mother or father. Therefore, our role as “step parents” was to be mature female or male role models and not interfere with the parental relationships that already existed with our children and our ex-spouses.
To Deb’s boys, I was their mother’s husband and an additional male in their lives who was hopefully a good role model of a Christian man. To my children, Deb was their father’s new wife and one who related to them as a person to whom they could talk, relate and share; a mature female role model. Obviously, if our children were younger or did not have an existing relationship with a biological parent, our roles as “step parents” may have been different. Every situation is unique, and each person in a blending family situation needs to find his or her role.
Third— Success in blending a family requires flexibility and cooperation
In any blending family situation, there are numerous participants. Deb and I have four children, daughters-in-law, a son-in-law, and nine grandchildren. We both have ex-spouses who are remarried, and they have significant relationships with the children and grandchildren that we share.
Our daughters-in-law and our son-in-law have parents who are significant members of this expansive family that is in the process of blending. Considering the number of family members and the many relationships that exists, flexibility and cooperation is critical. This is especially true during the holidays or on the occasion of special family events. Those of us who have been raised in the church are familiar with Philippians 2:3 that encourages us to: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” The point here is that consideration of others is critical when one is in a blending family. Such consideration involves planning and communication.
Being part of a blending family has its challenges, but it can also be blessing.
When I became a stepmom, I had reservations. What would be expected of me from the older teenaged stepchildren? What did my husband expect from me? After all, they are his biological children, not mine. What would my biological children expect? They were young teens and used to it being the three of us. Now we were the four and sometimes the six of us.
I was also concerned about how my sons would react and relate to my husband, their stepdad. Their biological dad was alive and involved in their lives. He had already remarried, and my sons had become teens with two sets of parents.
There were many unknowns for my husband, Peter, and me as we started a life together with stepchildren. There were no magical books to read that would tell us exactly what to do in each situation. There were no experts to consult who had all the answers. At times, I felt we were all alone in this process.
Peter and I did not agree on parenting styles. I was a disciplinarian and he was more inclined to discuss the situation and reason through to an appropriate resolution. Fortunately for us we did not have children that required constant monitoring and direction. We both understood by the time a child reaches the teen years the parents influence has decreased.
As a parent, I wanted what was best for my sons and still do. As a stepparent, I wanted what was best for my stepchildren and still do. It was an automatic process for me to accept my stepchildren and love them for who they were and who they have become. I made sure I did not treat my children differently than I did my husband’s children. They were, and still are, equal in my eyes.
One thing I determined at the beginning of my relationship as stepmom was my husband’s children already had a mother. She was, and still is, part of their lives. The kids did not need me to take the role of mother, and I did not want to take that role with them. I determined I needed to be someone who could be available for them rather than try to be their best friend. Those roles were taken, too. I wanted to be what they needed me to be. If it meant being a confidante, then that is what I would be. Because they were older teens, I let them determine what my role in their lives would be. It was not something we discussed. It appeared to be a natural shift. And it is still how we manage life today.
Peter did not see his role with my sons as that of father. He knew they already had a father and he chose to be a male role model for them. He determined that would be the best way to be part of their lives and not create friction for them.
When blending two families it is wise to consider the ex-spouses and their spouses (if they exist). In our situation, both ex-spouses were remarried before Peter and I married. Peter and I did not try to dictate what went on in the ex-spouses’ home, and they did not try to dictate our home life.
Adjustments had to be made when holidays came around. When you are divorced, holidays are shared (usually) with your ex. When you have blending families, there are “extra” families to consider. Our family suddenly consisted of not two sets of parents, but three sets of parents. If we wanted to have all four of our children together for holiday celebrations we had to take all sets of parents into consideration. Many times, a holiday was not celebrated on the actual date, but on a date close to the holiday. This did not take away from the holiday. We made it special and our children were happy to be together.
Although it managed to work fine, none of this “just happens.” There must be great communication between you and your spouse. You must be open and honest with each other, able to voice concerns, fears, dreads, and even anger. Work through it together and seek professional help if you are unable to make life work for both individuals. You will not always agree on everything. Accept there will be differences of opinion and learn to compromise with each other.
Being a stepparent is not always easy. It is not always rewarding when the children live at home. But, like parenting your own children, the results after they are grown can be wonderful. Today, after twenty-two years of marriage, I feel blessed to have four children with whom I have a relationship. I have nine precious, beautiful, and highly intelligent grandchildren!
Have there been “bumps in the road?” Yes. Were there times I wondered how this would turn out? Yes. But that’s life! No matter what we do, where we live, who we are, there are bumps in the road. We decide how we are going to deal with those bumps.
Looking back on twenty-two years of married life with Peter, having two biological children and two stepchildren in and out of our home, would I do it again? Yes. I have had and continue to have a good life. Peter’s children have poured love and acceptance into my life, and I have poured love and acceptance into theirs. I cannot and do not want to think about how life could have been without them.