After my divorce, I went to therapy and read many self-help books. I learned to take responsibility for my part of the problems in my first marriage. When I started dating again, I was convinced that a divorced dad would have learned his lessons as well so we would both be ahead of the learning curve despite the statistics about second marriages. I believed with all my heart that a single dad with kids would complete the picture of the family I always wanted but didn’t get the first time around. My daughter wanted siblings and didn’t care how they came into our family.
Three years after my divorce, I was set up on a blind date with a single dad who had two young daughters, they were four years old and six years old. My daughter was also six years old, just two months older than his oldest. I was told he was a hard-working guy that came from a large tight-knit family. After a few months of dating, I was smitten.
We both had the same schedule with our kids so all five of us would spend Sundays together and take fun vacations together like going to Disney World in Florida, snowmobiling in Colorado, and horseback riding in Arizona. I couldn’t be happier, except for the distance. Our kids got along just like bio siblings, best buddies one minute, fighting the next.
During the six years that we dated, we lived across town from each other. Between work, school and traffic, it was very difficult to see each other during the week, so I decided my daughter and I would move across town so we could all be together under one roof. We talked about getting married and my soon-to-be husband built a thousand-square-foot addition onto his home so that we would all fit. Finally, it was the picture-perfect family I always wanted. It didn’t matter to me that it was a blended family, I loved his kids as if they were my own and I was extremely happy.
I wasn’t totally naïve. I expected it to be challenging. Our kids were ten and twelve by the time we lived together. Those ages are difficult no matter what the living situation. I read every book I could find on stepparenting and blended families. I was determined to get this blended family thing right.
I thought my expectations were realistic. I didn’t expect us to blend together like a Blizzard from Dairy Queen, equally distributed pieces all mixed to yummy perfection with the occasional bite of intense flavor. I imagined more of a Recess Peanut Butter Cup synergy, separate flavors which combined create a greater effect than their individual greatness. I couldn’t have been more wrong. We blend more like oil and vinegar, almost impossible to maintain homogeny for more than a few minutes. Every day we dive in not knowing what we will get. There are moments of utter bitterness that hard to swallow. Followed by bland but smooth pieces I never pictured being happy to accept, but I do, day after day. Occasionally, we get the perfectly blend and it tastes so good it’s just enough to keep us believing we’ve finally made it, we’ve blended, we’ve got this. Then BAM!
Before comingling our families, his kids had told me that they thought I would make a great step-mom. My oldest daughter and his oldest daughter were besties and couldn’t wait to share a room together. Oh, the good ole days. Sharing a room together lasted about six months. Once we were married, his kids began to resent me. I love being a mom and being a stepmom was no different for me but it seemed to make a big difference to them. Being a parent is already a lesson in not taking things personally but being a stepparent takes that to a whole other level.
Before moving in, I believed my soon-to-be-husband and I shared the same parenting styles. We said yes and no to the same things and shared the same priorities. I knew I was a little stricter than he was but I thought that together we created a good balance. When you have a single-family unit the differences in parenting style work because the kids love you both unconditionally. When it’s a stepparent the kids just become resentful of the differences. Every difference becomes magnified and a point of contention. I hated having to tell my daughter that she would just have to get used to the double standards because I was not going to lower my standards to match his.
A lot has changed in the six years we have lived together. Being a blended family has taken a toll on our marriage. Two years ago, one teenager went to live with their mother. We were devastated at the time but soon realized it was the best thing for all of us. The following year was so peaceful in our house. Our two remaining kids got along better and when our other teenager visited they were nicer and more respectful. Then BAM! About a year ago, my youngest step daughter, who had been loving and interactive, became snarky and withdrawn. Now she too wants to live with her mother and barely speaks to us most days. She and my daughter no longer get along. I know this can be typical teenage behavior but when you are a blended family there is always the threat of the kids leaving to live with their other parents. In a single-family unit that dynamic doesn’t exist. I will never know what life would have been like if we hadn’t blended our families. If I knew then what I know now, I’m not sure I would do it all over again. It has been harder than I ever imagined. I am hopelessly optimistic and always believe love will conquer all so knowing me, I probably would.