I’ve always believed that, with the right attitude and perseverance, just about anything is possible! This is probably why I imagined that with two willing hearts and a can-do spirit that becoming a stepmom and blending families would be a relatively simple process. I liked my husband’s children, and they seemed to like me, so what could be so hard about living together and becoming a family?
I soon discovered that this endeavor was much more complicated than expected!
Perhaps I envisioned my new family to be similar to those little capsules of dehydrated sponges that children buy at the toy store. You know the ones where you just add water, and the tiny shape begins to expand and transform into dinosaurs and other animals? In my case, I thought it may be as easy as dropping eight capsules into a glass of water, then watching them, almost instantly, become a mother, father, and six children.
Not so fast! There’s no such thing as “instant family, just add water!”
Families, especially of the step variety, take time and lots of effort to take shape and become a cohesive unit. No number of smiles and pleasantries, shared pizza, or an afternoon at the movies could erase an entire childhood of being part of another family. No amount of enjoying one another’s company and developing real feelings for one another could overcome the fact that we were initially strangers trying to define a new way of life for ourselves as a created, rather than organic, family.
My own gung-ho enthusiasm to make our new arrangement work set me up for disappointment and heartbreak. Every time I felt a little pushback from his kids, when his and mine did not mesh well, or when a longing for the past surfaced, I took it personally and imagined that the situation I hoped for so much would fail.
What I failed to recognize was the fact that it was not just me and my husband-to-be being plugged into this system, but six other individuals of different ages, maturity, connections to their other parents, opinions about our efforts to blend, and fears and grief related to what it would mean to have stepparents and siblings. While a new marriage and combining our families into one was perceived as a positive by the adults involved, the children had good reason to be fearful of what all these changes may mean.
They feared losing the identities they had always associated with from birth. An investment in patience and time is what it takes to make a stepfamily become successfully combined.
An investment in patience and time is what it takes to make a stepfamily become successfully combined.
They feared rejection or disappointment from their other parents if they wholeheartedly accepted membership in our new family unit.
They mourned the end of the families they originated from. The crayon-scrawled images of “family” that they once drew in primary school no longer existed as they once did in those drawings. Those people were still in their lives, but nothing about the “good old days” still existed.
They feared sharing their parents with other kids and whether they might lose out on love, resources, and attention with so many new siblings and housemates clamoring for time and asking for things they needed.
Like all good and important things, an investment in patience and time is what it takes to make a stepfamily become successfully combined. Every day is a work in progress. We still work on perfecting our blend, but we never give up! Some days we feel like one big happy family, while other days there is definitely a sense of “us” and “them.”
Some experiences will always belong to my husband’s family or my own. For instance, although my children and I may sympathize for the loss of a maternal grandparent to my stepchildren, that loss is for a person and a facet of their lives that does not belong to us. Some experiences will always relate to one parent or the other who is not part of the household, memories from before our time together, and so on.
We respect the space and the need for some events and relationships to be for them or for us; but, in all other ways, every effort is made to promote equality and a sense of unity. We don’t give an unbalanced amount of attention to issues that highlight our differences or create a sense of division. Instead, we try our hardest to rely on routines, traditions we’ve created, and uniform expectations for our household to help unite us.
Many attempts may be needed to demonstrate to stepchildren that our motivations are pure and that we have no intentions to erase their former life or their individuality, nor force them to make any major changes in their lives before they’re ready. It helps not to force titles, and to allow connections and comfort to evolve over time, at the pace everyone is comfortable with.
If you’ve ever tasted instant mashed potatoes, then mashed potatoes made from fresh ingredients, I think most people will agree that the ones made with extra time, love, and care are much more satisfying than dehydrated flakes of potatoes from a box. Similarly, if a stepfamily is rushed into existence, instead of allowed to form naturally, it may not have the substance needed to be strong and successful.
If my present self could go back in time and tell the new stepmom version of myself just one piece of advice about this adventure, I would tell her to slow down and just let time be her best ally. Love, a positive attitude, humor, forgiveness, and an open mind will all go a long way toward bringing a stepfamily together; but, time and patience are by far the most useful tools in this project.
Nothing worth having isn’t also worth waiting for; and, with matters of the heart or mashed potatoes, time pays off in the end results!
Audrey Cade, author of Divorce Matters: help for hurting hearts and why divorce is sometimes the best decision,ivorceForce, Worthy Living and has been published in The Divorce Magazine, The Good Men Project, StepMo is a matriarch of a stepfamily of six children and an experienced “divorce warrior” in the areas of co-parenting, stepparenting, parental alienation, and re-marriage. She is a featured blogger for DivorcedMoms, contributor for Dm Magazine, and others. Her professional experience is a case manager social worker for developmentally-disabled children, and she holds degrees in Early Childhood Education, Human Service & Management, and a Master’s in Psychology. Follow Audrey on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest. Listen each Wednesday to her weekly Divorce Warrior Dialog podcast on her website.