Blending Families: Merging Households with Kids 8-18
My own blended family journey began when my mother, Fredi married Howard Stevenson 25 years ago. My mom brought 4 daughters ages 32-22 years old to the marriage while Howard brought 3 sons ages 22-16. The typical comment we hear is still “It sounds like the Brady Bunch!”
Although we have never lived under the same roof together, we have managed through the years to show up for one another through both joyful and challenging times. I attribute this closeness and willingness to mutually to step up for one another to my parent’s ability to make each of us feel safe and loved for who we are. By artfully walking the tricky path between the needs of each adult child and available resources, they made us all feel that they had our backs while being fair.
The biggest lesson I learned was they (my parents) have acted as a team, ALWAYS. They did not break rank and side with either biological side. They backed each other up even through some severe pressure from siblings. And they have been willing to listen while being firm and making boundaries while sticking to the occasional tough decision.
Watching them successfully navigate choppy waters while creating a positive and loving atmosphere, I was hopeful when I married my kid’s father that we/I could do the same. He had two children ages 3 and 6 when we met. His parenting plan included having his kids every weekend and 5 weeks in the summer as well as every other Christmas and Thanksgiving.
Leaving my single lady, NYC lifestyle in January 1996 for sunny Encinitas CA, I naively thought having 2 kids on weekends would be fun and easy. I was in for an epic shock. Having Spencer (3) and Michelle (6) years old with us every weekend exhausted and frustrated me. I wasn’t in any way prepared to cope with meltdowns, difficult behaviors and the bizarre food choices these kids presented me with. Step parenting did not come easily to me. There were few books written on the subject at the time. I felt alone and frankly out of control.
Within the year, I gave birth to Olivia, and she became the glue that held us together. Having a blood connection truly shifted the emotional vibe of the house. Michelle stepped in and literally took Olivia out of my arms and I am not sure has let go since. They are still so close and loving, it makes me smile.
When Friday afternoons arrived, even before Olivia could walk, she would sit by the front door around 3 pm waiting for the kids to arrive at 5pm. She needed Michelle and Spencer and it made me love them more. When Duncan came along 2 short years later, we were now a blended family of 4 kids, 2 adults juggling pressured schedules, an unhappy ex wife and no shortage of drama.
In those years I learned how to blend by making mistakes, lots of them! From allowing kids too much power in the house to the value of strong boundaries between households, I learned the importance of a strong hierarchy. The parents are in charge and we set the tone. We must be older, stronger and wiser.
Another important part was I had to let go of that bitter feeling as we paid for tuition, child support and other expenses for another household. By choosing to be in a blended family, we take on more responsibilities, more emotional issues and if we try, (and we may need at times to let go of potential emotional pain) it is a chance to create more love and connection.
After 13 years of marriage, my kid’s dad and I split up, making me an ex- stepmom to Spencer and Michelle while they remain half siblings to Olivia and Duncan. There is no word in the English language to describe our relationship now. I am still close to them and proud of the adults have become.
Four years after my divorce I was lucky enough to meet and marry Vinny Mullineaux. He was a package deal too. He brought Eva 16, his daughter along with a respectful relationship with Eva’s mom and her fiancé. Thankfully Eva, Olivia and Duncan have managed to forge a loving relationship between them.
With my second personal blend, (third in my life), I was able to articulate to Vinny best practices, and (now co-author a book). He has the same philosophy and we have been able to blend with minimum drama. We are all in this together!