As I sat next to my step-mother, watching my dad’s casket being slowly lowered into the ground, the thought occurred to me: not only was I surrounded by extended family, but by my blended family.
My mother Petra died when I was 7 years old. Three days before I received my First Communion; only a week or two after my younger sister and I had seen her in the hospital for a Mother’s Day visit. The following years are honestly a blur for me: many not-so-pleasant memories that as a growing adult I struggled to find meaning in and create a positive spin for.
During the after-funeral family get-together, I managed to spend some time talking to my cousin, who had lost his first wife a few years earlier (co-incidentally, he also had 2 young girls) and was now happily married to another woman who had a son of her own. I’d remembered seeing pictures and reading about the most wonderful adoption ceremony they’d had shortly after their wedding; and appreciating how they considered that that event may even have been more significant than their own wedding! Despite working through some difficult moments and challenging times, they both felt they were a truly cohesive ~ whole and healthy ~ family today.
Which got me to thinking…
Today it’s still quite impossible for me to talk to my own step-mother about the transition we all had after they were married. Questions come up that even as an adult I fear I will never have answers for: Why did she think our relationship changed so after they got married (my dad and she knew each other and dated long-distance for a year or so prior to their marriage)? What thoughts went through her head the few summers we went off with Petra’s family on vacation? How did she process the seriously troubling times we went through as a family during my teen years?
I have to admit that when I became a parent, I developed a much greater sense of understanding and forgiveness for my own parents as parents.
But looking back on how I was raised, and coming to terms with my blended background, I’ve come up with 6 things my folks might have been done differently.
Not to dishonor them or what they’ve done, but to suggest things that others might want to consider…
1) Encourage conversation – Even as a young child, I longed to talk to my folks. To my dad, about what had happened to my mom, and about her past…to my step-mom, about her feelings and what she was experiencing…and to them both, about what was going inside of me in the midst of it all. Not allowing these conversations to happen suggests that these topics and feelings are somehow wrong or taboo. Not a good thing…
2) Give grace – Hey, we’re all doing the best we can. Yup, we’re gonna flub up, but welcome to the human race. Forgive and move on. Adults have to model this concept if they can ever expect their children to learn it.
3) Don’t assume the worst – You know how little kids are sometimes, right? Especially sisters: sharing secrets about boys at school, or what happened in class yesterday, or what so-and-so said in the playground.
4) Deal with the “step” issue – One of the growing problems I have with Disney stories is the portrayal of the step-parent, and in particular, step-mothers. It’s easy in our culture for step-moms to assume that these negative traits summarily accompany the title, but it’s also a lie from the pit! This is my definition of “step-mother”: Someone who, of her own volition, entered into a family that comes along with its own history, and chooses to begin a new section of the tapestry together with them. It doesn’t negate or betray the past, but adds new color and texture and richness, moving forward. Similar to adoption, it adds a deeper layer of choice to being a mom.
5) Consider adoption – At one point during high school, I had the opportunity to earn a scholarship from the company my step-mom worked for. At first, we thought that I had to be adopted to be eligible, so proceedings were initiated; when it was understood that I qualified without that connection, my folks decided not to pursue it. Adoption sends a strong message to kids, yet in the end it boils down to point #1 – keep the conversation going (especially with older children), but also with your spouse. Then you can decide together, with information and discernment, if this is an option your family will pursue.
6) Remember who is the adult and who is the child – Sometimes we all need the reminder that, concerning parenting, “More is caught than taught.” It’s no different in this case!
As in any family, some of these issues aren’t an “issue”, and other families may have issues that I didn’t mention.
The important thing for any blended family to remember is that there will always be another layer to the inevitable challenges that all families experience. It doesn’t make your family, or any one single person in it, bad or wrong or broken.
It is what it is: another opportunity to extend love and grace to fellow sinners who were brought together by God as part of His unique and wonderful and loving plan!
What a gift…
Have you used any of these strategies to preserve the gift of blended family? Would any of these ideas work well for you current family dynamics? And finally, what blended family wisdom would you add to this list? We look forward to continuing the conversation in the comments below!
*Pat Fenner* is busy these days homeschooling 3 middle- and high-schoolers, keeping up with her 2 adult-and-married kids, trying to run a blog, be a helpmeet to her crazy and lovable hubby, *and* not lose her mind in the process. Unbelievably beginning to prepare for the inevitable empty nest, she is focusing on productive ways to pass on to younger parents and new homeschoolers the lessons she’s learned through the school of hard knocks. Visit her and her partner-in-crime over at PatAndCandy.com, and get wonderful words of encouragement periodically with their newsletter “Since We Last Talked…”