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The Never-Ending Blended Family Dance

Jul15

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I don’t talk about the whole family-blending thing all that much. For one thing, I feel like I won’t really be qualified to comment on how my husband and I did until the kids are adults. For another, it’s a pretty fraught subject under the best of circumstances. I am suspicious of anyone who claims to know best practices or the secret when it comes to integrating households after a split and a new marriage and—most likely—a peanut gallery of former in-laws who feel their team has been wronged.

What I tend to say is this: My husband and I have been friends since college. My kids knew him (not well, but they’d seen him over the years) long before I divorced their dad, and well ahead of our romantic involvement and eventual marriage. And my husband is patient and kind, for real. While it’s been a bumpy road, watching the man I love help parent these children while walking the precarious line between “considering them his own” and “not taking their dad’s place” makes me fall in love with him all over again on a daily basis.

That’s what I say, and it’s true.

What I haven’t said before: A few months before we got married, I brought the kids down to Georgia to look at schools and houses and to check out the town we’d be moving to that summer. We spent a week, and it was perhaps the first “this is all really real” step in our new lives. My son was 7 and my daughter almost 9. My then-fiancé had spent time with them prior to this trip, of course, but this was a week of having them in his house, and a preview of what his new life would look like. The week was filled with fun and firsts and promise, and shortly before we left, just when I’d started to exhale, my daughter went outside one day, picked up an acorn with a pointy end, and essentially keyed her stepdad-to-be’s new car with it. She completely ruined the paint on one rear panel.

That happened seven and a half years ago. It’s funny now (“No, it’s not!” says my husband, with a smirk), but at the time, oh, it felt like the end of the world. She was unrepentant, and couldn’t explain why she’d done it. My husband is a bona fide Car Guy and so the damage itself was very upsetting, but also the feeling that this act was a giant “screw you” from his soon-to-be stepdaughter was disturbing, to say the least. A small, irrational, and very loud part of my brain was certain he would call off the marriage. Who in their right mind would not see this as a flashing warning sign?

Discussions were had. Tears were shed. The car was repainted and the wedding happened a few months later, as planned. My daughter continued to run hot and cold with my husband; in contrast, my son flung his arms around him the first night in our new house and declared, “I love you!” before going to bed. Our family was the perfect illustration of different kids coping in different ways.

A few years ago, my husband started taking my son on a “guys’ trip” each summer. Nothing big or long or fancy, mind you, just a few days, just the two of them. The intersection of their individual interests can be hard to find, but they manage it. My son has always been open to these experiences, and he is less likely to fall prey to all of the supposed reasons why he “shouldn’t” enjoy time with his stepdad.

My daughter commented, at some point, about how maybe she wanted to go on a trip like that. My husband was quick to respond that he’d love to take her somewhere, she just needed to say the word. She backpedaled, a dozen reasons why it didn’t matter to her after all driving her, most of which she wouldn’t even be able to articulate if she tried.

For seven and a half years, I’ve watched a push-pull dynamic play out between them. My husband’s near-limitless patience absorbs and withstands my daughter’s whiplash-inducing vacillation between camaraderie and disdain. Their relationship is complicated, unfairly skewed by history and other relationships which, in a perfect world, wouldn’t impinge upon them. He loves her unconditionally, just as a father should. She loves him back, even when she thinks she doesn’t, and even when she worries that she shouldn’t.

I don’t know how we got here. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, and I don’t kid myself that smooth sailing is in our future, either. Life is messy. I never thought I’d look back on the Car Incident and giggle, but I can, now, because I see it as testament to the grace with which my husband walked into a minefield, looked around, and said, “Okay, let’s do this.” I love this man because of everything he is to me, but I love him even more because of who he’s managed to be to my kids.

Today my husband and my daughter are packing up for their road trip. We bought snacks and they’ve spent hours planning out their itinerary and both of them are very busy acting like this isn’t a big deal at all. I’m playing along.

It’s true that love is patient, love is kind. And sometimes it’s true that love buys sour gummy worms and Jolly Ranchers and loads up the car and heads off to the next adventure, too.

About the author

Mir Kamin

http://wouldashoulda.com/
Mir Kamin began writing about her life online nearly a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now her life looks very different than it did back then: Those little kids turned into anything-but-regular teenagers, she is remarried, and somehow she's become one of those people who talks to her dog in a high-pitched baby voice. Along the way she's continued chronicling the everyday at Woulda Coulda Shoulda, plus she's bringing you daily bargain therapy at Want Not. The good news is that Mir grew up and became a writer and she still really likes hanging out with her kids; the bad news is that her hair is a lot grayer than it used to be.


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18 Responses to “The Never-Ending Blended Family Dance”

  1. Jodie Jul 15 at 9:42 pm Reply Reply

    What a lovely way to end the day. Misty eyed on this ‘no big deal event.’

  2. Ann Jul 15 at 11:53 pm Reply Reply

    Thanks for sharing this. I was in your daughter’s position and it took me the better part of 15 years to get there. My “step” father just gave us a gift of a much needed cash contribution for purchasing our first home and it meant so much!

  3. meg Jul 16 at 11:04 am Reply Reply

    so sweet

  4. Brittany Jul 16 at 11:55 am Reply Reply

    I can relate so much to your daughter’s feelings. The only difference is that my brother is my mom and step-father’s child. I often felt like an outsider in my own family (which was no one’s fault but still caused much angst). The good news is that the relationship I have with my step-father as an adult is much smoother than my childhood and teenage years. He is a great support system to me and my son’s beloved Pop Pop. My son’s middle name is my step-father’s because I wanted him to know that he is my family and is absolutely a grandfather to this child. And I can acknowledge how difficult it must have been for him to raise and love me all those years. Things I didn’t understand or appreciate until I grew up and started my own family.

    Your husband sounds like an amazing man. I hope that your children can have the type of relationship with him as they grow up that I now do with my step-dad. Even though it was hard, I look back now and wouldn’t change a thing because I wouldn’t be the person I am without him.

    • Mir Kamin
      Mir Kamin Jul 16 at 12:47 pm Reply Reply

      This story makes me happy, Brittany. Thank you for sharing! :)

  5. RuthWells Jul 16 at 12:45 pm Reply Reply

    How marvelous. Kudos to you all for making it to this point.

  6. Headless Mom Jul 16 at 12:49 pm Reply Reply

    Beautiful!

  7. Rachel Jul 16 at 1:07 pm Reply Reply

    This post made my eyes leak… in an awesome way.

  8. Christina Jul 16 at 2:12 pm Reply Reply

    What a wonderful turn of events, so glad they are finally taking a trip together even if it is “No Big Deal, REALLY” lol.

    My parents split when I was 12 and my dad lived in a different state for most (99%) of my life since then, which means he wasn’t around for all those father/daughter moments.

    I had hopes when the step-dad came into our lives. He was a good guy in general but, we never fully ‘got it together’ (not that my teenaged self made it easy AT ALL) and then he & mom split out of the blue (after 15+ yrs) which wedged us further apart.

    I guess my point is this, I didn’t have much of a father figure in my life but I do remember WANTING it so bad yet FIGHTING it even more. She’s taking a huge step & I see a wonderful relationship blooming. YAY for them :-)

  9. RL Julia Jul 16 at 2:34 pm Reply Reply

    Having been a part of a few blended families, I have learned that even when you see one another lots, it takes YEARS (if not decades) and lots of work and good will on everyone’s part before it feels like family. On the other hand, I wouldn’t trade any of my steps for anything. Sometimes I think they are the best members of my family!

  10. karen Jul 16 at 3:49 pm Reply Reply

    Mir, I’ve been reading you since those days, and I would not have guessed. I do remember there was a special gift given to Chick on your wedding day by that awesome man of yours. Yours is the stuff of dreams… and what I mean by that is your rock solid relationship built on love, thick and thin and sometimes thinner. It’s a beautiful thing and I’m glad you have it to share between you.

    An acorn, huh? that was kinda creative!

  11. js Jul 16 at 6:09 pm Reply Reply

    This hits close to home as my blended family prepares to accept it’s newest member. My husband (my daughters step-dad) and I are having a baby and my daughter is busy pretending she doesn’t like the baby at all. She is also fighting her own battles with a bio father she knows doesn’t love her the way that dads should, thanks to the example her step-dad has shown. It’s not perfect, but if love is enough, we’ll be ok. You give me hope.

    • Mir Kamin
      Mir Kamin Jul 16 at 8:39 pm Reply Reply

      Awww, gentle hugs to you and your sweet daughter. I think we’ll all be okay. :)

  12. Heather Jul 16 at 8:43 pm Reply Reply

    Love this.

  13. theresa Jul 17 at 2:58 am Reply Reply

    This is the most real thing I’ve read on the internet in awhile. Thank you for writing it well.

  14. Angela Jul 17 at 2:15 pm Reply Reply

    That is so awesome, I love hearing stories about great stepdads. They seem too rare. I love how you phrased that he stepped in to a minefield and said, “Let’s do this.” What character! I hope he shines as an example that other men pay attention to. I can’t tell you how many men I know, including my husband, who had such asshole stepfathers. Many of them would actually get into FISTFIGHTS with their stepdads. My husband had to beat down his stepdads (yes, plural stepdads) multiple times as a teenager, mostly for disrespecting and being abusive to his mom and him. No kid should have to deal with that, and no man should treat others that way. However, he is an amazing husband and father now, despite that. Good to hear your story!

  15. Rachel Jul 17 at 5:27 pm Reply Reply

    What a beautiful story. I think something got in my eye at the end, it was wonderful to see that they’re doing their trip together!

    I have a great dad and an amazing stepdad. I was 11 when he joined our family (parents divorced at 8), and our relationship was always pretty easy. My brother put up a fight for a while, and kept him at a distance, but it worked out. My dad told us specifically that it was OK to love our stepdad, which helped my brother. My stepmom was harder for me because she had 3 boys older than me. Our relationship is strained, but it’s improved over almost 30 years.

    I got remarried 5 months ago, and we are having some growing pains. I understand it’s hard to go from being a long-time bachelor to having 2 teens and a tween. My expectations of the reactions of my kids were clearly wrong. My oldest is very bonded to her stepdad, and considers him her dad (she doesn’t see her dad any more, though). Middlest likes him, but she’s in her own world and he takes offense to her not responding to him. She’s the most like him, though. Youngest is the hardest – they have very little in common, other than watching TV together.

    I’m hoping our story has high points like yours as we go through the years.

  16. Daisy Jul 20 at 7:09 pm Reply Reply

    Those trips, those parent-bonding trips, aren’t limited to step-family, either. My son is very high maintenance (blind, Asperger’s), and for years I made a point of taking off somewhere with my daughter for a few days “Just Because.” A road trip is a great time to talk – about anything or about nothing. 

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