Finding Comfort in Your Own Space

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.

Been There, Traveled with Them, Now I’m Tired…

I love vacations! No, I mean I really LOVE vacations. I live for planning a trip somewhere. Whether that is a short weekend an hour away, a cruise to a new exotic location or a family trip to see grandparents, I LOVE it. There is something about getting out of our day to day routine, unplugging a little more and creating memories together that I just adore. We get to have adventures and bond in ways that we can’t at home. We are faced with challenges we wouldn’t be at home and get to see who we really are. (No, really, vacations often bring challenges. Ask me someday to tell you about our car in Georgia!) So, why am I choosing to write to you about vacations, when honestly how can anyone think there’s anything wrong with family time??? Well, that’s because when you are planning vacations in a blended family… there is suddenly a butt load of challenges that nuclear families have to deal with.

This past year our family had some big changes. My step daughter’s biological mom moved out of state and she moved in with us full time and started public school in our district. We began an out of state parenting plan where she is spending most of the summer and school breaks with her mom, step dad and other siblings. We get a lot of time together with her and we are so thankful, however, a large amount of that time is school time. We actually pulled our kids out of school for 4 days this year to go on a cruise. (BEST vacation ever for a family of mixed age groups, by the way!) Next year, we don’t think we can do this as my step daughter’s schedule is getting more demanding with school, work and dual enrollment and AP courses. After meeting with her career counselor and discussing this with her, we have decided that vacations during school days are not what’s best for her as she feels utterly overwhelmed to catch up. With summer and school breaks as our only options for vacations, we are a bit more limited now. Then, we need to take into account our time sharing schedule and try to plan around that. Suddenly, our vacation time opportunities are VERY limited.

This year, I earned a travel voucher through work. It was very exciting (because, did I mention, I LOVE vacations?) We originally planned to use it to go overseas this Summer. My step daughter was going to travel to Europe on a short term foreign exchange trip before traveling to her mom’s for the Summer. We were going to meet her there and spend some time together. Sounds perfect right?? Well, as can happen with raising kids, our plans didn’t work out. My step daughter made some decisions that caused us to say that her foreign exchange trip wouldn’t happen until next year or her senior year. My husband and I then decided that traveling overseas with a very wild 2.5 year old wasn’t exactly what we wanted to do this year, and we would only be able to go during the time our teenager was with us which didn’t really work out with our work schedules.  Our travel voucher had to be used in this calendar year and our time that we were all together and the kids are out of school really was very limited. We stressed about how to make it fair, how to include everyone, how to make it fun for all the kdis of different ages etc etc. I am sure I will get some negative feedback for what we decided, but this is why I am writing this. There isn’t a one size fits all answer for raising kids, especially in blended families! We only have my step daughter for a week or two this summer and during that time I will be doing annual appointments, school supply shopping, registration etc. We will definitely spend some time doing a fun weekend trip, but our teen has already expressed that she really wants to spend as much time as she can with friends after being gone for so long. (That’s not normal for a teenager at all, is it??!?)

So, with all of the schedules considered, ages of our children and the expiration of our voucher, we booked a trip this summer without my step daughter. To say that we have struggled with guilt would be an understatement. It’s funny because the trip we chose wouldn’t even excite her, and she has some awesome vacations planned with her mom’s side, and yet we have literally lost sleep over feeling guilty! But the truth is, we can’t stop living our lives just because she is away living hers in her other home. We decided to take our smaller children to Disney. We live in Florida so our teen has experienced Disney often and wouldn’t feel like she missed anything.

How, as a parent do you balance those guilt emotions? How do you provide “fair” experiences when living in a blended family? A couple things that really help me while planning our family vacations is understanding that our family is made up of multiple family units. My step daughter is living life at her mom’s. She is not being “excluded” from our family. My sons are living life with us while she is away. While there are certain trips we would never take without her, we can’t always schedule everything together due to the complicated schedules blended families have. We also always keep the children and what is best for them in mind. It is best for my step daughter to have a healthy realationship with both homes. It is best for her that we encourage this. It’s best for my sons that we keep our home running as normally as possible while she is with her mom. There isn’t always an easy answer, but the one thing we have always tried to do is just make sure that no matter what my step daughter knows she belongs, that she is loved in both homes and that we miss her even if life is going on without her, and acknowledging her sadness if she feels she has missed out. We encourage her to share her experiences and vacations that she has had without us, and we share ours with her. Communication is huge in our home.

Are you carrying guilt or struggling to find balance? Are you a family trying to figure out what is best for your home and your children? There isn’t an easy answer, but just remember, your home keeps running even when there are people who aren’t home. Your step children have experiences you aren’t part of and it’s ok to have some that they aren’t part of. If your motives are pure and you consistently try to consider what is best for all members of your home, your children will feel that love. And lastly, remember you aren’t alone!

Hi! I’m Stephanie

Hey there! Thanks for stopping by. Let’s start off on the right foot, I’m Stephanie. I am a self proclaimed coffee lover, Jesus lover and a bit of a spaz. I am honest to a fault and love all things outdoor and adventure. (Although I am TERRIFIED of flying!) I am passionate about hard work, creating spaces where people can gather and be themselves, hosting, and reveling in the beauty of nature. I am a mother of three (kind of…). Well, mother to two boys and step-mother to a teen girl. Family can be messy, blended families can be super messy and this is the reason I blog. I hope you find some inspiration here for the beautiful mess you’re living and that you can learn to grow where you’re planted, even if it’s a bit gravely.