If you Google blended family you’ll find endless articles and websites that focus on helping you meet the challenges head-on. Yes, there are challenges — and plenty of them. But one thing I’ve learned through personal experience — something these resources don’t tend to talk about much — is the fact that the blended family is, in many ways, much like every other family.
Welcome to my blended family.
It looks like this. At its helm are me and my husband. He and I have been together for coming on 10 years. I have a 18-year-old daughter from a previous marriage. He has an 11-year-old daughter from a previous relationship.
My daughter lives with us. Her father lives a two-hour drive away. His daughter lives with her mother. She lives a five-hour plane ride away.
It’s complicated, to say the least. It impacts our relationship. We miss our respective children when they’re gone. We argue about them when they’re here. And sometimes — more and more frequently as time goes on — we live in total harmony.
More importantly, though, it impacts our children. How could it not? With every tear or outburst, with every sign of anxiety, low self-esteem or academic struggle, we are aware of how complicated their young lives are as a result of the choices we have made as adults. But here’s the thing.
Tantrums, anxiety, and insecurity do not discriminate.
All of those worrying behaviours that I have witnessed in the two young subjects of our circumstance, I have also seen in the children of those whose families I have often envied since separating from my daughter’s father. You know, the ones with original parents who are still together, one home for all, holidays undivided.
The perfect family.
In these perfect families, I have learned of children and adolescents that have quit school, run away from home, taken drugs, self-harmed, fallen victim to abuse, bullied others, and more — all despite a seemingly strong and stable family environment. So, you see, my blended family isn’t that unique.
Parents have their favourites. It’s just the way it goes.
Some of the greatest challenges I’ve encountered in our blended family revolve around loyalty. Apologies in advance to my hubby, but if there was room in my lifeboat for one, I’d grab my daughter and tell my husband to swim like hell! And I’m very confident he would do the same. Because when push comes to shove, nothing beats the bond we have with our own.
While we certainly love one another’s children, we are unquestionably more tolerant of our own. Again, I have looked to those so-called perfect families and imagined how much easier things would be if we had co-created our girls. I’ve romanticized over how much more in sync we’d be if we shared an equal bond with both. But then again …
In those same perfect families, I’ve seen blatant favouritism at play. One parent thinks that child #1 can do no wrong and regrets not having tied her tubes before partaking in the act that created child #2. The other parent sees triple sixes at the thought of child #1 and thanks God for restoring his faith by delivering the angel that is child #2. Two children, co-created by the same two parents, yet their loyalties are every bit as divided as those in my blended family.
Divide and conquer — all families do it.
Both my husband and I grew up in England and both of our girls have family in London. Through trial and error, we’ve learned that when visiting the UK, what’s best for us is ultimately what’s best for our girls.
Yes, we four have formed a family unit of our own, but our visits are so rare and precious that we need to ensure our daughters get to spend quality time with their own extended families before being whisked back home. This means dividing and conquering.
It’s not ideal. But again, it’s not an issue that’s unique to our blended family. I know moms who have left the boys behind to do the dance competition rounds with their daughters, and men who have gone away camping with just their boys. Perfect families, technically undivided, who choose to divide and conquer just like us because that’s what makes the best sense.
If the blended family’s really not that different, why all the fuss?
Ah, but we are different. We face a whole bunch of unique challenges that perfect families never EVER have to think about — step-parenting and managing ex-partners among them. So why did I write this? To remind you that…
Life is complicated, for everyone, regardless of family structure.
Day in, day out, we are all fighting battles, as are our children. And we are all guilty, at least occasionally, of thinking that the grass is greener elsewhere. But what does that matter? All we have, whether married or separated, with or without kids, is what’s right here, right now.
So yes, do everything you can within your power to iron out the stubborn wrinkles in your blended family, but try to do so without the added burden of believing that your life is only complicated because it’s blended.
As a wise friend once said to me, if you were asked to put your problems into a jar along with everybody else’s, and then given the opportunity to pull out any but yours, chances are you’d wish you could have your own problems back again.
Viv for today xo
(Originally published in July 2018)
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