Parents

The Blend

A stepfamily can be as happy and successful as any other, but it will be different.
02/24/2017 02:34pm ET
Antonio Ortega

Have you ever wondered about the function and purpose of a blender? A blender, sometimes called a liquidizer, is a kitchen and laboratory appliance used to mix, purée, or emulsify food and other substances.

When you throw in mango and pineapple along with other complementary fruits and blend, you end up with a very tasty smoothie. Or if you place fresh milk, ice cream and strawberries in the blender, you come out with a delicious strawberry milk shake.

While a blender blends the ingredients and gives you the best result using what you put in, the fact of the matter is, every ingredient will have to lose their identity in order to produce a smoothie, shake, or other desired beverage. During the blending process, it becomes difficult to tell one ingredient from the others.

All too often this is what people expect of a blended family, but why should anyone have to lose their flavor/identity just to accommodate the blend? What if the ingredients you are mixing together do not produce a tasty smoothie or milk shake? And why do you really need to blend anything for that matter?

It was the summer of 2004 when Debbie and I ran into each other after years of residing in separate states. It was great to reconnect and we quickly renewed our friendship.

Neither of us planned on venturing into an exclusive relationship, at least not right now, but because we had known each other for years and felt so comfortable with each other, our friendship quickly grew into a romantic connection.

At the point when Debbie and I reconnected, she had three wonderful children; ages 8, 4 and 1. I had one child age 18 (not living with me). We dated for approximately three years. During this awesome dating period, we would occasionally involve the children in an activity here and there, but never on a regular basis.

After the three years of awesomeness, we decided to get married. I remember going to Debbie’s parents with the intention of asking for their blessings. While they did not necessarily have a problem with me because they had known me for years, they had some concerns about the children.

I will never forget when Debbie’s mom asked me; “What will the relationship between you and the kids look like?”

At the time I remember thinking to myself that it was an odd question. I mean, after all, if I’m in love with their mom and their mom is in love with me, then by way of default I will be in love with the children and them with me. So I responded to her based on the foolish ideology that popped in my head. Only to find out later in the relationship that I was so WRONG!!

The following fantasies are typical in a blended family:

Step-parent: ‘We’ll be one big happy family. The kids will love me. I’ll love them back. My relationship will be solid. I can’t wait for us all to be a family.’

Biological Parent: ‘My partner will love the kids as much as I do and the kids will love him/her back. The kids will be so grateful for everything he/she gives this family. I just can’t wait to show everyone how happy we can be as a family.’

The kids: ‘It’s only a matter of time before mom and dad get back together. They actually love each other a lot and as soon as they realize that we can be a family again.’

I got caught up in the fantasy of the blend instead of facing the reality of our situation. Pretty soon I would learn that letting go of the fantasy and embracing reality would help my family move through the challenges of blending. It also allowed me to have greater influence on my family and to be more flexible regarding to the things that I did not readily understand. Fully embracing the reality of the blend helped us identify where we needed to go as a family.

A stepfamily can be as happy and successful as any other, but it will be different. It’s important to gently let go of the fantasy because your imaginings of what things “should” be like probably played a big role in the reason you decided to do this. But don’t worry, letting go of the fantasy and accepting reality will ensure that eventually something at least as good will take its place. All the fantasies I had about marrying Debbie and embracing her kids were short lived, simply because they were unrealistic fantasies. I had to learn quickly the value of trust and enjoy the journey it would take me on.

When I lived in Jamaica, I used to plant beans, peas, carrots, potatoes and pumpkin—you name it. Although well aware that nature had to take its course for the plants to grow properly, I would often in my eagerness expect harvest well before time. No matter how I hyped up my expectation, nature’s process always prevailed.

My job was to plant and nurture, then allow nature to take its course.

Once the plants started to grow, then I had to constantly prune and fertilize; in some cases, I had to stake the plants so they were trained to grow upright instead of falling to the ground.

So it is with children! They need constant pruning, fertilizing and training to grow up instead of down, to reach for blue skies instead of crawling along the ground. They need admonition like a plant needs fertilizer. And as water activates the fertilizer, making it available to the roots, smiles activate our admonition making it available to the soul of the child. Non- biological mom/dad, your job is to just plant and nurture, and slow down your expectations.

You may give a lot of time, energy, love, and affection to your new partner’s kids that will not be returned immediately. Think of it as making small investments that may one day yield a lot of interest. As a non-biological parent, my job is to build trust and relationship, not to lay down rules the minute I move in. Rules and regulations without relationship lead to rebellion.

After 10 years of marriage, my family is still being blended. We each have our own individual flavor, but together we are creating new varieties and exotic flavors ― that’s the beauty of the blend.