A Blended Family’s Point of View
Recently I had an amazing conversation with one of my best friends regarding our families. She is a mother of 3.5 (one on the way!). Her family is blended just like mine; however, she is the biological mother where I am the step mother. It’s nice to chat with her because I get to see both sides of the cards and it often helps to see other point of views when stressful situations arise. (That NEVER happens in a blended family though, right??) This conversation was really eye opening for me in terms of what many of the members of my family may be feeling within the walls of their own home. We were discussing comfort levels and she told me that her and her two youngest children will be the only ones who are ever fully comfortable in their home. (Wait, What??!?)
Let me back up a little, my beautiful friend, has two biological daughters from a prior relationship and has since remarried a wonderful man. They now have a son and another daughter on the way. Her teenage biological daughters have a great relationship with their step father which is blossoming into something incredible. They also love their younger brother and are adjusting to this new “blended” life. As an outsider, or maybe as the biological mother, or biological children it may be difficult to understand why some of the members of your home don’t feel comfortable. They’re all family now, how is that possible to be uncomfortable in your childhood home or the home you live in with your spouse? How is it possible when in all other areas, everyone is truly bonding and adapting and getting along?
The truth is, that when you have a biological child and raise them from birth there is a deep unexplainable comfort and ability to be yourself. You aren’t always worried about locking the bathroom door or offending someone by saying the wrong thing. This is because the love you’ve built is unconditional and deep and there isn’t any doubt in that relationship. It’s blood. Imagine you invite your closest friend, or sister or brother over for a week. You ADORE them and you are family, but your household will run a little differently. Maybe you lock the door when changing so their two year old won’t bust in on you, or you wear more modest pajamas. Maybe you watch what you say just a little more, because you want them to feel comfortable in your house. When you become a blended family, it feels like this scenario every day you’re together for some of the members of the house. My friend’s teenage daughters will be more aware of locking their door when their step dad is home because they don’t want their little brother opening it if they are changing. Their step dad is more aware of closing doors for the same reason. There isn’t anything unclean or impure about their actions, there is no worry for safety, it’s truly and simply an act of wanting to feel comfort and offer the same to the other members of the household. The step dad may also be more unsure of parenting his step children, or offending them where he has no fears when it comes to his own child. There’s a unique balancing act when it comes to parenting kids who are not your own. You want to be involved, but don’t want to overstep for fear of upsetting the balance with the children and their biological mom and dad.
In my home, it’s myself, my husband, his teenage daughter from a prior relationship and our two biological sons. I love his daughter and we have a great bond, and our family feels like a family. But after this conversation with my friend, I realized that there was a lot of truth in her words. I would be willing to bet that my step-daughter feels most comfortable when her step parents aren’t home. (Although as a teen, she probably just feels most comfortable when no one is home! Hah) And honestly, if my teenager is home, I probably wouldn’t walk out of the bathroom in my towel unless there was some emergency. I am just more aware of being modest. The biggest part of this realization came when we were talking about how the children from prior relationships may struggle to find that deep comfort with every member in the house. I have thought about this as I pray often that my step daughter feels that she has a place and belongs. Her mom and dad both remarried and had children with the new spouses so there are small nuclear family units in her homes and I know she often doesn’t feel like she has a “place.” This is the hardest part, knowing that a child needs to work through this and process this.
So how do we make our home a place of connection and comfort? How do we make it so that every member can be themselves and feels that they have enough personal space and privacy etc. We started by making a commitment that our family is one, we are whole. We don’t treat anyone differently, whether biological or not. We all do what is needed to take care of each other and we are all active members in our home. Honestly, that meant expecting all the kids to help with small chores, whether we saw them every day or not. After dinner we all help. It meant that on Christmas, they all received similar amounts of things to open, regardless if one of them got more because they have two families. It meant having conversations at dinner and eating together every night possible. It meant attending each other’s events, games and awards. It means celebrating each other. It means we pray together and for each other. It means that we teach privacy and respect to our little ones. It means we allow my teenage step daughter her own space, and my sons get the same. We respect each other’s space and property. It means acknowledging that my step daughter has another home and another family. It means that we never make her feel badly for sharing about them or her experiences there of for missing them. It means encouraging her to build deep relationships with her other family, not knocking her down for having them. It means we never speak badly of her other home or family in front of our children, or at all as much as possible. It means that we openly recognize our differences and that it won’t always be fair, but we communicate with each other. Blending a family takes time and you can’t expect everyone to bond quickly, or push it. One of the best things my husband did for his daughter and I is allow our relationship to form naturally. He never forced anything for either of us. He gave us all to spend time together and expected us to act as a family (see above), but he never forced a bond.
If you’re feeling uncomfortable in your home, or your children or spouse are, consider carving out space that is just for you or them. Consider ways you can spend time together that encourages bonding in a low pressure setting, whether that’s doing an activity they are into or cheering them on from the sidelines, or just going out for ice cream as a family… spending time together will help the bond grow. Encourage your step kids to spend time one on one with their bio parent and take time for yourself. This will be good for both of you! We need to give space for the members in our home to truly be themselves, allow for self expression. We need to extend grace, because it won’t always be easy. Blended families have a lot of learning to do at first and our family members may have different personal tastes, different schedules, different passions. Our step children may be used to certain rules in their other home and we need to try to offer understanding and grace making our home a safe space. As a step parent or bio parent, you need to have grace with yourself too! Allow room for your own growth as well. Speak with your spouse, communicate your feelings and needs. And most importantly, know that you’re not alone.