Tag Archives: step-parents

Blended family: love and stew

What I want you to know about what love looks like in our blended family.

Heather Fowee

 

It gets really old when I try to explain that we are a blended family and we get the sympathetic head-tilt (the bless-your-heart look).  Or I say I have to take a call from my ex-husband and the other mom rolls her eyes, as if she assumes it’s a dreaded task and a given that I have contempt for him.  I do not. At all. He’s getting married soon, to a wonderful woman who loves my children. And honestly, I really do not like the term ‘blended.’  Blenders spin really fast and chew things up.  That’s how I FEEL sometimes, but not how I would prefer to describe my eclectic crew.  Combining households takes a lot of time, energy, love and attention.  It’s more like a stew.  But telling a new friend that we are a stew of a family would just be weird.  I am already a little strange, so I try not to fly the freak flag too early to prospective friends in case they are keepers.  For the sake of this story, I will call us a mixed family. 

To say that we are simply a ‘mixed’ family would be an understatement. I have 2 biological daughters, we are in the process of adopting my cousin, and my husband has a biological daughter. That would be FOUR GIRLS between the ages of 8 and 12.  You can gasp, it’s ok.  Also, we have three different last names among six people.  It can get confusing, especially at the school or the doctor’s office.  At times, people respond as if single-unit families are the norm and we are some rare specimen.  Hello, McFly! It goes like this with my step-daughter: “we just need your permission to do such-n-such.”  I say, “Ok. But I will need to check it out with her mother and my husband.” {looks confused} “Soooo, you’re not her real mom?” Big sigh.  No, I’m not her REAL mom.  Can we move on now?  I have a taxi service to run, ya know!  Speaking of which, the *most* fun comes in trying to keep a calendar of where everyone is going to be and when and with whom and how are they getting home.  The daughter we are adopting still visits her great-grandmother and grandmother on certain weekends.  Did you do the math? That’s THREE other families to keep track of and consider and care about.

Here is how we do love in our super mixed, crazy, wonderful, silly home.  And I say ‘do love’ because I believe it is an act of the will.  You do not have to feel love to act loving.   

  1. We have hills that we die on: Faith, grace, responsibility and the concept that we are a TEAM, not six individuals all fighting for their own rights. 

* Our faith in God and His ability to redeem drives our belief that this family will keep sailing, even through the rough waves. 

* We practice giving and receiving grace often.  If there is no grace- for sisters, former spouses, step-parenting- then we’re all working for love by trying to be good enough.  Aren’t we all tired of that hamster wheel?  When the girls start arguing, we ask, “which one of you will give grace and serve your sister and who’s going to receive?”  It still counts if they roll their eyes and do it, right?

* We believe that everyone in our home is responsible for their words and actions and is responsible to other family members to love and support them. I don’t get to blame you and you don’t get to blame me.  No one is a victim here. 

* A team is a community with the same vision.  We believe deeply that we are a family on a mission to show Jesus’ love, light and kindness to each other and the world, and to be brave.  It also works when the tween yells, “Yeah, but it’s not MY towel” and I get to respond, “Take one for the team, honey. Pick it up anyway.”  {insert child muttering}

  1. We are very careful not to accept others’ labels: Our girls do not come from a broken family.  Technically, since we are all a little kooky, we are all broken.  And that is OK.  But to say to a tender-hearted child that their family is broken is cruel.  A marriage broke, not the family.  I was a family with my three girls as a single mom.  And now we are a giant, extended family with three other families.       
  2. You are allowed to have your feelings.  They belong to you and you get to own them.  They may look ugly but, please honey, HAVE THEM.  I would rather deal with your crazy, confused fits now than deal with a 16-year old who has repressed her feelings for years.  The really magical thing about feelings: they aren’t good or bad, they just ARE, and they may change.      
  3. We respect and honor the other families.  You do not have to like them or your sisters, but a code of baseline respect is in place at all times.  Without that code, no relationship can ever grow.  I do not adhere to the belief that people have to earn my respect.  Are we so callous that every human, every child of God, does not deserve respect? One human to another.  One stumbling, broken, doing-the-best-we-can human to another soul also doing the best they can with what they have.
  4.  I pursued a genuine friendship with my step-daughter’s mother.  I did not do so well in the beginning.  She was not a fan of mine at the time (“I was SURE I did not want to like you”) and I reacted defensively.  A few years ago I realized that I will have to spend a lifetime with the other families: birthdays, graduations, weddings, babies, etc.  It serves my children for their parents to be united in co-parenting and supporting for the rest of their lives.  So, I started to show her how much I cared.  I treated her just like I would a new friend, with all the vulnerability that comes with that.  Let me tell you, it was HARD.  I was so afraid she would judge me or use information against me at some time.  She didn’t trust me for a while, but I kept trying and she kept trying.  Now, we have a dear friendship.  She comes to my porch and we talk about life and laugh.  I’ve babysat her son and she gives my oldest homework advice and makeup tips.  We check on each other when one household is having a rough week.  When she leaves my house, we hug and I say ‘love ya’ and she says ‘talk to you soon!’  It is a beautiful, lovely friendship that I am so grateful for.  My husband thinks it is a little odd that we’re THAT close.  He gets really nervous when he’s left us alone and comes back to find us laughing.  Great fun!  
  5. Our marriage comes first.  We crazy love our girls and would step in front of a bus for any of them.  But if the marriage is not cared for, the stew gets cold and rots and nobody wants to eat it and it will be thrown out.  So, we stir and watch the heat and add seasoning as needed.    
  6. We tell the (age-appropriate) truth. Always.  These kids have questions and they want to be answered!  The world is already confusing and then you throw in the fact that a little soul wonders why her dad never married her mom or why her mom is in prison, well that is tough.  And we tell the truth.  If you have a need, then speak your truth.  ‘Ask for what you need’ is one of our favorite mantras.  And the great lesson is that you may not get it, but you ASKED.  Awesome!

That is our story.  It is not available to every mixed family.  People are hurt and broken and act crazy or cannot move on or go to jail or abuse themselves or others.  We are grateful for our mixed up family.  It is an awesome privilege and responsibility.  Some days we are weak or angry or exhausted.  That is ok because we are brave.  We keep sailing and I wish the same for you.