Holding Together a Blended Family

Essential Mommy Guide: The Blended Family

Being a step-parent is not an easy task, and in order to have a working bond and good relationship with your step-child(ren), it requires a never ending commitment to open communication with your spouse, flexibility with expectations, understanding of what a blended family is, and acceptance that there will be differences between full time and part time children.

 I met my daughter when she was five years old.  She was adorable, sweet, imaginative, active, and completely won me over.  My husband and I had been dating long distance about nine months.  He had told me that he had a daughter from a previous marriage, but explained that until we were both certain that the relationship would move forward, he did not want me to meet his daughter.  I found this to be an incredibly mature decision that required a great deal of logic, empathy, compassion and love for his daughter.  His daughter and I connected quickly and played for hours, slowly bonding and getting to know one another.  

In my opinion, it is very important when you are entering into a romantic relationship and the person you are dating is a parent, that you realize you are not just dating him or her, you are also dating his or her child.  I don’t mean you are dating the child in a romantic way, but rather, you are making sure that not only could you be this person’s spouse, but you could also be your spouse’s child’s parent.  It is important to note for yourself if you have a bond with the child and if you are willing to make the commitment to develop that bond with the child.  

One thing that my husband and I do well, most of the time (no one is perfect), is communicate.  When it comes to blending a family, communication is key, especially when the family begins to expand with new children.  Communicating concerns, issues and feelings with your partner regarding balancing attention, time and experiences with each child is at the core of having a functional blended family.  The reason we are able to communicate freely is because we dedicate at least one night a month to just being with each other.  We ensure that for at least one night he and I do something together on our own.  This at least once a month date has helped us to keep a healthy, dynamic and loving relationship.  It allows us to set aside time to focus on our relationship and build it even stronger.

James H. Bray, PhD, of the Baylor College of Medicine stated, “These parents formed a solid, committed partnership so they could not only nurture their marriage, but effectively raise their children.  They didn’t get stuck in unrealistic expectations of what family should be like.”  (http://www.apa.org/monitor/dec05/stepfamily.aspx)   Every family is different, and no one can write a book on parenting that will be effective for every situation.  Developing a blended family really requires rolling with it and learning to accept that when a child is not spending the majority of their time with you, he or she will not be able to meet the expectations you may have for children that do live with you full time.  Nothing is perfect in life, but if you work at the things you are not so good at, you get better at them.

For me, the hardest part about being part of a blended family was hearing my daughter refer to her step-dad as daddy.  This was hard for me to swallow because my husband is an amazing father.  I came to his defense and actually allowed myself to get upset by it.  As I matured further and came to understand the full dynamics of a blended family, I realized that even though my husband was an amazing father, she knew two fathers because she could not be with us all the time and, in fact, she spent the majority of time outside of our household.  It is important as a step-parent to remove yourself from the situation, look at the whole picture, and allow yourself to evolve and become open to the child’s perspective.  I realized that I couldn’t look at my daughter’s life from my eyes, but rather, I had to start seeing the environment we provided for her from her eyes.  This is extremely important when you are raising a child and have missed out on some key time in his or her life.  Starting to look at the world through her eyes made me realize adults create barriers with the words step-parent.  The reality is, blended families create three to four parents for a child, and two households with separate rules, ideals, expectations and lifestyles.    Communication, empathy, listening and understanding are all key in ensuring that expectations are realistic and that the blended family is mixed well and no one feels isolated or left out.

When I spoke to my daughter about the hardest adjustments for her living in a blended household, it wasn’t when I came into her life and dated and eventually married her dad, but it was when her first sibling in our household was born.  After nine years of being an only child in our household, she remembers becoming jealous when her brother was born.  In a child’s eyes, they don’t clue into the sleep you deprived yourself of so that you could play a board game with them, or the work you put off so that you could play with them.  They remember when you had to hold the baby and couldn’t give them attention.  There is really no remedy that I could find for this.  When parents have a new infant, the infant is helpless and requires the majority of attention from the parents.  My husband and I both communicated with our daughter and tried to explain that we would give her as much time and attention as we could, but that babies needed the attention and assistance so that they could thrive.  As she grew older, she grasped an understanding, but the only thing we could do was communicate with her.  It is important to know that you will not be able to fix all negative feelings, but if you communicate the whys, children mature and begin to understand that you were doing the best you could for them at the time.

Another important thing about being in a blended family is knowing that it is okay that as a step-parent the bond you have with your biological child(ren) is different than the bond you have with the child(ren) you chose to marry as yours.  When you are with a child from birth, you know everything about them and have been a familiar and loving encounter from the first moment he or she came into the world.  When you choose to become a parent in a child’s life and have not had the privilege of the intimacy from birth, there is a piece of that relationship that is missing, so it will be a different bond.  It is substantial to note that you both chose each other, though, and you continue to choose each other every day.  

In summary, do not expect perfection, but rather, keep your mind and heart open to the child you are essentially adopting into your life, and ride the waves wherever they may take you.  Make communication with your spouse and all children a priority, and learn that you will make mistakes, but that you can take those mistakes, evolve into a better person and parent because of them, and allow yourself to grow into the parent you want to be for all of your children.


Finding You After Becoming Mommy

First and foremost, it is important to note that I am not a psychologist or doctor, and that this is documentation only of my journey as a parent. This is a series that I hope will assist any other parents out there with concerns or questions they might have. The Essential Mommy Guide Series will be a collection of posts with different adversities and opportunities I encountered beginning with the birth of my first child and continuing with the birth of a second child and expanding our family by acquiring custody of our oldest daughter.

Essential Mommy Series: Finding You Again After Becoming Mommy

Birth of my son

Leading up to my son’s birth, I tried to read several books about what to expect and how to care for your newborn.  Being in the military, and as a first time mom, they have a wonderful program in which a nurse comes to your house to aid with understanding your pregnancy and then assisting with any questions or concerns you may have up until your child turns 6 months old.  I fully appreciated the program and took full advantage of it for my son, but I neglected to turn any of the focus onto myself.  

The nurse was very attentive and asked after I gave birth to Alex if I was experiencing any of the signs and symptoms of postpartum depression (link brings you to mayoclinic).  I truly did not experience anything beyond the typical baby blues, but I did begin to notice something nagging at me.  I was faced with the decision to go back to work or to stay home and raise my child.  Establishing a career had gone out the window when my husband received orders to Eglin Air Force Base in Fort Walton Beach, Florida.  Prior to that I had worked at the IRS and was on a path to climbing the GS ladder.  I was unable to continue my career in the IRS because there were no IRS jobs in the area of Florida we had moved to.  The area thrived on tourism, so most jobs were lower paying customer service jobs.  I applied for several jobs on base, but was unable to secure any job on base.  I ended up getting a job as tech support for a company, but the pay was not enough to make going to work worth it.  I chose to stay home and raise my son in lieu of working to pay for someone else to raise him.

This would be the first time since I was eighteen that I would not have a full time job, and the first time since I was thirteen that I would not have the means of supporting myself financially in some way.  I began to feel lost, like I was falling down a rabbit hole and wasn’t sure where it was going to take me.  My only duty in life was to be Mommy, and I wasn’t sure how I felt about that.  

Since moving out of my parents’ house at the age of nineteen and living out on my own, I had never experienced having to rely completely on someone else for my means of survival.  My husband is very reliable and loving and never made any indication that I was an added burden, this was the experience that I encountered inside of my mind and heart. I had judged my self worth by my accomplishments at work and my ability to support myself.  To add to the fact that I no longer understood how to measure my self worth, I also struggled with my self esteem.  Things that had once come so easily to me were now a daily battle.  Working out and doing my best to be healthy are things that I have strived for since I graduated from eighth grade and made a commitment to being fit.  I was the heaviest I had been since eighth grade, and it was affecting my self esteem.  

One realization was that being Mommy was the hardest job I had ever had.  My son and sleep were not friends.  For naps, I was walking and singing to him for nearly forty-five minutes so that I could get him to take a 30 minute nap.  I very seldom was able to slip away to use the restroom, and sometimes being able to make breakfast or lunch just didn’t happen.  When Alex, my son, was about three months old, is when I really started to lose my bearings inside the rabbit hole.  I worked hard to make sure Alex and my husband were well taken care of, because that had become my job.  The problem was, I neglected to take care of myself and find the time to get reacquainted with the new version of me in this phase of my life.  It was during this time that my husband went TDY for NCO Academy at Tyndall AFB.  

With my husband away, I went into a negative spiral and one day called and lost it on him.  That was my low point, but he was a saint as always and the conversation ended on a high note.  That next day, I read something that altered my entire perspective.  My cousin, Rosemary Barrow, a Cross Fit athlete and personal trainer in Oregon, posted an article on Facebook the day after I hit my low point and it started me down the path I needed to be on.  This was the article I read, Positively Positive, and I used it as a guide.  I printed it out and stapled it to the wall in my room so that I would see it every day and it would remind me that my life is in my control.

My perspective was the major problem, and I acknowledged that first.  I knew that I had to stop looking at my life with the eyes from my past and start looking at my life with my Mommy eyes.  I could no longer measure my worth by accomplishments and pay checks, but I could measure it by something way more meaningful.  I realized that every time my child smiled or did something new or learned something new, I was a part of that and the tummy time, story times, play time and interactions I had with him were making him into the incredible person I witnessed and continue to witness him growing into.

I was so focused on what I could no longer do that I lost sight of who I wanted to be.  I made the commitment to be the best me I could be, which meant I would strive to also be the best mom and wife I could be.  This became my new every day goal.

My inclination to continue looking at myself as a failure because I could not contribute to the household the way I used to affected my ability to be positive and productive.  I shifted my attention from being a financial contributor to being a contributor of love, support, and household duties.  I became more productive and positive in my role as Mommy, wife and household maintainer.

My energy had been negative because of my inability to see how important my new role was in my family.  When I switched my perspective and realized I needed to make the change and acknowledge how important my role is, I concentrated all of my energy into positive light.  That change opened a gateway for me to start challenging myself by exploring things I had never done before.

I looked up events in my area and started attending library story times.  I was invited to join a mommy group and pushed myself to go, no  matter how uncomfortable I was stepping into a group where I had only one acquaintance.  I started becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable in situations I was not used to.  This was the first time in my life I had to build my own routine.  After I acknowledged that I had to shed the skin of my past views and measurements of myself, I started working on the new me I wanted to be.

My role as Mommy was my top priority, but I also realized that I had to include some things for myself as part of the daily routine.  In the morning, right around the time Alex normally started to get tired for his morning nap, I went to a walking path in our area, would put him in the stroller and would walk at a moderate pace for as long as he would sleep because it was the only time he would fall asleep without a struggle.  I got my exercise in, some peace and quiet, and both of us got fresh air and some nature time.  

I started taking Alex to library story times, which gave both of us some social time.  Through the library story times, I met another mom who created a mommy group.  I joined the mommy group, and play dates, library story times, park meet ups and walks became a large part of our routine.  The mommy group was definitely the best thing that could have happened to Alex and I.  I gained some amazing friends, experiences and life lessons that have helped mold me into the mommy and person I am today.  The greatest assets and resources we have as new moms and moms in new areas, are other moms, dads and parents.

Life has several chapters, each one of them is different and shapes the character you ultimately become, but if you come across the chapter where you become Mommy, be sure to take the time to find you again in your new role as Mommy.