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I am a mother, a new grandmother, and a teacher. But whatever happens in my life, I keep sewing. I have worked as a political communicator and now as a teacher in my formal life. I have also written extensively on sewing. I have been a frequent contributor and contributing editor of Threads magazine and the Australian magazine Dressmaking with Stitches. My first book Sew.. the garment-making book of knowledge will be published in May 2018 and is available for pre-order from Amazon


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Saturday, May 5, 2012

Blended families

Being with family on holidays seems to have brought out my family theorizing. 

This morning I am thinking of blended families. You see I don't think you can really blend a family, so you can't tell where one set begins and one ends, but you can branch them out. That's a difference. I realize this is a tough subject for a lot of people and I realize my thoughts are only my thoughts, and might upset some folks, but here goes.

I want to write this because I have myself been lucky in this area, an area that causes a lot of suffering,  and do feel there are a few things that work and some that don't. A lot of this I learned from my own husband and my step-daughters' mom who just seemed to know how to do this. I think it's worth passing on,

Here goes.

First of all don't pretend, as nice as it would be to do that. You were each married before and your child's other parent is your child's other parent. Even if your current marriage is the one you wish you had first,you can't just declare you are now a family a la Brady Bunch and cancel all previous realities. 

1. You are not their mother, they already have one. The place you will have in that child's life will develop in it's own way and in it's own form and in it's own time. Don't push it. I have seen women tell teenagers the second time they meet them that they want to be "someone they can come to with all their problems" or a woman at a cocktail party introduce herself as a mother "of seven children" neglecting to mention that she hadn't even met three of those children until they were through high school and only two years before.

When one of my step-daughters got married I made the dress but didn't try to organize the wedding, as bossy as I am, and was only in the family pictures when her mom invited me. It wasn't about me.

2. Actually once you have been a single mother in a sense you always will be. You and your children have a history your present spouse can't ever quite share. You will feel alone in a private way at graduations and weddings and that's OK. Everybody's life has its curves and this is one of yours.

3. Don't try to do everything together (see intro). After all the kids were there first. The absolute best thing you can do to establish a positive relationship with step-children is to make sure they have direct access to their parent, alone when they need it. You don't need the kids to endorse your new relationship, nice if it happens, which might take 20 years, because the relationship is between two adults. Committees don't remarry. 

I learned this from my husband. For the first year we were married he bought a cottage where he moved his stuff and went there every weekend so my kids and I could continue to have our time together. Smartest thing he ever did. Since then I visit kids on my own and sometimes he even eats in his office when someone is home so my child and I can visit over a meal like the old days. I make sure I am not always on the scene whenever I can with his daughters. That's all kids really want, when so much has changed in their lives, to know that their primary relationship with a parent is still the same.

Listen I know it's hard. 

I think blending a family is probably one of the toughest things you can take on. I am reminded of something a social worker friend said to me once about her clients, it's not what happens to people that makes them unhappy, it's whether or not it is matching their expectations. Expect very little, expect it to take a lot of time, and treat the kids like you would treat friends of your own children, particularly if they are older- with interest and caring but not with much authority.

Finally I have to end this with a shout out to my two stepdaughters. They are absolutely the most wonderful women and have been terrific to me. Their mother did a good job, a very good job, and I have been the beneficiary. 


Anonymous said...

THAT is a beautiful practical backgrounder to the week leading to Mother's Day!

Thank you!


Jodie said...

Yes, oh yes....I've been a step-mother for just over 10 years. It's a tough gig. In some ways my experience is easier than some as my step son was 3 at the time his Dad and I got married. But still hard. Very rewarding but challenging all the same. In the end I just try to be "trusted adult friend" and make scheduling as easy as possible for him.
I love the line about "committees don't get married". Often my one complaint is that it feels that this kid is parented by committee....
Great post!

Karin said...

Wise words.

Jane M said...

That's a voice of experience, compassion and kindness speaking. Lovely posting.

a little sewing said...

wonderful advice, Barbara.

Anonymous said...

Very well said. Thank you.

goodworks1 said...

Well said. Especially about the expectations. My children's stepmothers (a different one for each of them...) have made a wonderful contribution to their lives and I'm so grateful to them. And to my husband, the stepfather who understood/understands about not trying to force his way into the family.