Changing the words used to describe a problem does not necessarily change the underlying issue. In fact, I worry that it can actually discredit the true experiences that real people are living.
We are a “blended” family, but sometimes it feels more broken than blended.
My husband and I got married about five years ago, and we’ve had two children, a daughter who is 4 and a son who is 2. It was always a possibility that his daughter from a prior relationship might come to live with us, but it always seemed the chances were slim. Then, just after my son was born, we got the news. His daughter, age 12 at the time, was choosing to come live with us permanently. She was craving stability that her mom simply could not provide for her.
It’s been rocky. But not in the ways you might imagine. My stepdaughter is a great kid, she gets herself up for school, she does her homework and gets good grades. She is polite and easy to be proud of.
But it’s still hard. Because you are taking people from different lives and different experiences and putting them all in one house and trying to “blend” them together.
For me, it’s been painful to relive my childhood from the other direction. I am constantly reminded of being that lonely lost teen when my dad remarried and had more kids. He had full custody and I had a limited relationship with my own mother to fall back on. I am aware of every word I say that might make my stepdaughter feel as though she doesn’t belong. I am aware of the natural wall that is between us, and how getting close to me might make her feel disloyal to her own mom, who she still loves dearly. As she should.
My husband feels caught in the middle. He is now pulled in 3 different directions at home, trying to balance giving each child an equal amount of time and affection. He tends to want to overcompensate for his daughter’s needs, potentially out of guilt for what she has endured. He is driven to create this cohesive family and gets extremely frustrated when we have to share her with her mom for holidays or family events. It is just a stinging reminder that we don’t have our whole family together. And he misses her when she is not with us.
I can only imagine what the teen must be feeling. I know she is grateful to be with us and moving back with her mom is no longer an option for her. But she carries those hurts. She goes long stretches without seeing her mom at all. She’s had to make all new friends in a brand-new school, all while learning to blend in with our family and our way of doing things. There is a huge age gap to contend with, and most of the time we are limited by nap schedules and the fact that we as parents are so damn tired.
Our daughter struggled with her older sister coming to live with us. During the same year that our youngest was born, she went from essentially being an only child to being the middle child. She lost me to her brother and her dad to her sister and got lost herself. It has taken so much patience and love to fill her back up and to help her learn to deal with her emotions.
The little man is probably the least affected. He will never remember a time before my stepdaughter came to live with us. He loves her and he especially loves to flirt with all of her friends.
What helps us is that we talk. We acknowledge each of our children and each other as parents that what we are doing is hard. We look past the surface and see what is broken. If we walked around pretending that everything was perfect, the hurts would grow in secrecy.
Maybe one day we won’t feel so broken. Maybe one day we’ll look back on this time and see how we blended, after all.
Sara Mann is both a stepdaughter and a stepmom, desperately trying to keep the peace in a household of five on overdrive. She writes about her strategies for keeping sane (mostly) at The Sanity Plan and on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.