When I became the mom of a blended family more that fifteen years ago, I imagined that there were only two possible options: either we blended or we didn’t, and blending was the definitive goal. It was my theory that the best blends were the ones that were seamless; so integrated that you were not able to detect where one family unit originally ended and the other began. I am almost embarrassed to admit it, but for some reason it brought me great pleasure when people would look at my daughter and assume she was my husband’s biological child. There was a sense of completeness when we were out and about with our four children, two from his first marriage and two from mine, and I would often fantasize that this is the way it always had been and always would be; we were meant to be a cohesive group. I think back with joy to when our four younger “shared” or “connector” children were added to our blend and acquaintances would comment on how similar they looked to their older half siblings. Funny as that might seem I was convinced that these were signs from above that we were doing something right!
Now that I am older and more experienced at this “blended family” thing, I have come to realize that there are actually some perfectly full-fledged “blended” families that are not that blended at all, and they seem to be just fine.
When I look at my friends who are also step-moms I do not notice any concern over the fact that they see their stepchildren as just that: stepchildren, rather than embracing them as their own. It doesn’t seem to irk them that their stepchildren call them by their first names rather than Mom or some version thereof. They claim not to lose sleep over what their step kids are up to. You can plainly see that they love these children; they just choose to leave the worrying to the “real mom and dad.” In fact I recently asked an acquaintance, whom I knew has several older stepchildren and just became a grandmother, if her new grandson was her first grandchild. Her response gave me much to think about and was the catalyst that got my mind working on this article. She answered that her new grandson was her first, but that her husband had two young grandchildren. What struck me is that this couple had actually been married over twenty years and she still thought of her husband’s children from his previous marriage as his and not hers.
Honestly, when I think about it, there might just be something positive in adopting this kind of attitude. These women are perfectly good stepmothers; they are caring, compassionate, warm women. I certainly do not consider myself a better stepmother simply because my stepchildren call me “Mommy” or that when I am asked how many children I have I automatically respond eight instead of just counting the six that I gave birth to.
Self-evaluation is often a complicated and emotional journey and I sometimes wonder why creating this “normal” family unit was so important to me. Why did I need that validation of the strong role I played in my stepchildren’s lives? Why did I need to be recognized?
Over the years, time and experiences has changed us – and our needs have changed as well. I believe that at the beginning of our relationship, my stepchildren and I all needed to feel that closeness that comes with being acknowledged as parent and child. We were all wounded from the process of divorce and the challenges of blending. Making that commitment to each other, letting the world know that we were indeed a “real family” was in a sense making a statement that our bond was valid and long term. It was reassuring and stabilizing at a time when we needed to feel that stability.