6 Things No One Tells You About Having a Blended Family
- Dawn Walker Vanderwerf
- 2017 1 Dec
After five years of being a single mom, I wasn’t sure I’d ever be married again. So when God did answer my prayer for a very specific sort of man who was all I’d hoped for and who wanted to do things the right way for the right reasons as much as I did, I was filled with joy and gratitude…and great expectations. Our shared vision was to live out marriage in our new family the way God designed it and model that legacy for our kids.
Two and a half years later, we have learned so much and are even more aware of all we still have to learn. But I want to share some surprises we encountered in our first year that challenged us and our expectations in hopes that it might better prepare others in the early days of their blended family journey.
1. Living with another family is an adjustment.
We decided early on to not co-habit before we were married, which I believe set our relationship and family up for success in many ways. In June of 2015 we were married, and my son and I moved in with my husband and his three teenage daughters. That’s when we encountered our first big challenge. For most of our first year living together, there was this awkward tension as we had to learn each other’s habits and patterns and get comfortable with new people in our space. For example, my husband used to survive on eggs, bananas and chips and salsa. So he was a little freaked out by the sheer volume of foods his new Italian bride brought into his life. Also, I am somewhat of an introvert who had gotten used to long stretches of time to myself. So my new family didn’t understand that after about two hours of togetherness I needed everyone to go outside and not come in for six hours so I could reflect and recalibrate. The kids’ were faced with unwelcome changes as well. The first week, my boy (who had been an only child) was convinced he would be raptured up before he would get a turn in the bathroom. The girls were equally appalled to discover pee around a three-foot radius of the toilet regardless of whether the lid was up or down. We can laugh about most of these things now, but there were times when all the changes and differences felt overwhelming.
2. You don’t always know what to call each other.
I don’t personally like the term stepdaughter or stepson because I feel it somehow minimizes their value or position as an equally-loved child. Someone suggested calling them my “bonus kids” but that sounds like I ordered children with my extra credit card reward points. So far my favorite thing to call them is “my girls,” which I hope is endearing to them and yet doesn’t displace their mother. My husband, on the other hand, has decided to call them all “Snacktime” because the majority of their daily activity involves the pursuit or hoarding of snacks.
3. You have no shared history or memories yet.
I never noticed how many of our daily conversations in life start with “Remember when we…” until my son and I moved in with my husband and his girls and found that because we were outnumbered and my son had no siblings to recount the past with, conversations and memories were almost exclusively dominated by the girls, while my son and I would often disengage and feel left out. I remember having the thought, “this is what foster kids must feel like all the time.” That feeling of not belonging because of not having a shared history helped me be more intentional about bringing up memories that we all had in common as a new family unit, as well as trying to make sure that time spent reliving older memories was more evenly split among all the kids. We also learned that as hard as it sometimes is to hear stories of times you were never part of, it’s important to acknowledge that all of us had a past and part of who we are involves memories from it.
4. Your kids don't organically merge into a Hallmark sibling relationship.
We have remarkable kids. I know we’re a bit partial, but our kids have endured much adversity, including divorce, living and serving on international mission fields, and changing addresses more times than they can count. And they came through it all with soft, kind hearts. I admit, even though my son had reservations about adding three older sisters to his life, I had high expectations that he would quickly adapt and there would be rapid cohesion into an amiable sibling relationship. What we actually found is that when we were both present and facilitating family time, all the kids were fairly at ease with each other and would play cards or watch YouTube videos or pass gas and giggle about it. However, if we left them home alone and went on a date, we would usually return to find them at opposite ends of the house avoiding interaction at all costs. Now that more time has passed, they are more at ease being in the same room together or even talking to each other when we’re not there, but we’ve had to adjust our expectations of when they might actually seek out each other’s company by about 10 years!
5. Holidays get way more complicated.
When I was a single mom with an only child, our holidays were pretty simple. It was just us, my parents and a lot of homemade pies. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but now when we plan for holidays we have to create an Excel spreadsheet and several pie charts to break down exactly how seven family units will get to celebrate Christmas in a 24-hour period with two sets of kids, and when it’s all said and done, if our new family unit will even get a slice of that pie. This past Christmas, I got to the end of the day and broke down in tears because we were so busy rushing kids from one place to the next we didn’t have time for one picture of our own family together. What we learned is that our new family needs to take priority over all previous family traditions and expectations. It’s difficult enough to have to split holidays with our kids’ other parents, but to fracture them further trying to please everyone in our extended family ends up stealing our joy and precious opportunities for us to bond with each other and create new memories and traditions of our own.
6. We’re all insecure in love.
As kids and as adults, most of us enter into blended families having suffered deep hurts from divorce, abandonment or death of a loved one. As much healing and recovery as we may have had, we’re all still deeply wounded, insecure creatures who are constantly and indirectly asking each other, “Do you really love me?,” “Can I trust you?,” and “If there’s a conflict or I mess up, are you going to leave me too?” Unconditional love is a truth yet to be proven early in any relationship, but especially in blended families. By its nature, love needs time to reveal it’s true character. One of our favorite reassurances to each other and to our kids is, “I’m not going anywhere.” Meaning, we are playing for keeps. Even when feelings get hurt or kids reject us or things don’t go anything like we planned.
When you blend two families with different hurts, histories, habits and traditions, you simply have to allow room for awkwardness, insecurities and misunderstandings. Time will level out a lot of these, but in the first year expect them to be more plentiful and more magnified. The good news is, after the initial shock wears off, you begin to understand that you aren’t a hopelessly incompatible family, this is just a normal part of your adjustment period. You learn to give each other a little grace and a little space and try to find humor in it whenever possible.
So don’t lose heart when the people and circumstances in your new blended family fall short of your expectations. Instead, let God draw you closer to His heart and remind you of all the good that is happening that you may or may not see yet. Decide to believe that no matter how discouraging things seem, especially in that first year, you are secure in God’s love; He is for you and for your family and working all of it for your good and for His glory.
Dawn VanderWerf helped author The Daddy Gap and writes Hope Notes, daily encouragements for single parents read by subscribers worldwide. Director of Single Parent Missions and co-founder of the Midwest Single Parenting Summit, Dawn is passionate about encouraging single parents and envisioning and equipping the Church to respond to the growing population of non-traditional families. Now remarried and in the trenches of blended family life, Dawn lives in Hudsonville, Michigan with her husband Steve and their four kids. To find out more, visit singleparentmissions.com.
Photo courtesy: ©Thinkstock/bowie15