As part of our Blended Family Friday series, each week we spotlight a different stepfamily to learn how they successfully blended their two families. Our hope is that by telling their stories, we'll bring you closer to blended family bliss in your own life! Want to share your own story? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nancy Daneshmand doesn't beat around the bush when describing what it was like to grow up in a blended family. "Both my parents have now been remarried over 30 years to their second spouse," she explains, "But we definitely had issues at first."
Below, Nancy explains how a rocky start led to a close-knit family thanks to the maturity of all four parents.
Hi Nancy. Please introduce us to your family.
My original family consists of my parents, Ed and Mary. Ed is married to my step-mother Liz and Mary is married to my step-dad Tom. My parents were married to each other for 25 years and I was 17 when my mother moved out. My little sister Pati was six at that time. My two older siblings are Mike, who's five years older than me and Joan, who is two-and-a-half years older.
Dad married Liz and she had three daughters from a previous relationship: Kim, Donna, and Lori. Lori moved in with us when our parents got together. Dad and Liz have been married now for over 30 years.
Mom married Tom and he has two children from his previous marriage: Patrick and Heidi. Mom and Tom have been married over 30 years, too. So all in all, that makes four parents and nine siblings in all, including me.
Pictured, left to right: Mary, Tom, Pati, Nancy, Ed, Joan, Mike, Liz.
What was it like growing up with two sets of parents? How did the parents get along?
It was difficult at first. When my parents were together, they were best friends with Tom and his first wife Sue for many years. So when mom chose to leave my dad to start a new life with Tom, it meant that she was betraying her best friend. It also meant that Tom was betraying his best friend, Ed, my dad.
This situation lead to a lot of emotional strain and discomfort, as well as embarrassment in our family and our community -- my parents' other friends sided with my dad and basically shunned my mom and Tom.
We as a family struggled through the transition with my parents speaking only as necessary and on a limited basis. My dad held a grudge for many years. Tom was not "allowed" to attend my wedding or he chose not to come out of respect for my dad's feelings and this was seven years after the divorce. Tom didn't attend my sister Pati's wedding, either. Basically, my two dads were not in the same room at all for many, many years...but that changed when Pati had her first child.
When Pati told me over the phone that Dad and Tom had both come to see the baby at the same time, well…I was in shock. I didn't believe it and I needed to see it with my own eyes. The next time I came home for a visit, we all got together at a restaurant for a family gathering. Dad sat across from Tom, mom sat across from Liz, my dad's new wife. They talked the whole time to each other. Pati looked at me afterward and she could read the disbelief on my face.
Today, when we have gatherings at one place or the another, usually both sets of parents are in attendance. Everyone is there: children, spouses, grandchildren. The parents wouldn't dream of having two separate gatherings at the same time on the same day! That would split up "the family!"
Growing up, what were some of the biggest challenges of blended family life?
When dad married Liz, she and her daughter Lori moved in to our home -- aka the home that mom had moved out of. I think she and dad began looking for a new home for us immediately.
I really don't think Liz liked me very much at that time. I was an 18-year-old girl, a typical teenager living at home, so you can imagine how she felt about me. She had already raised two teenage daughters of her own and on her own. Dad was her third husband. Her two older girls had not been living in her house for some time by the time she married dad.
I thought of Liz as a cleaning fanatic, forcing us to clean every day, with unrealistic standards -- like cleaning on the weekends.
I also had to get used to living with my dad. Even though we had lived in the same house together, his role in my life up to that time had been strictly as disciplinarian. At times, I felt like my dad viewed me more like a nanny to my little sister than a daughter. See, we clearly had issues!
How did you cope when stress started to build up at home?
When times were stressful at home, I would try to avoid situations and focus on work, school and friends. I'd make sure my little sister was OK and we would help comfort each other. Sometimes I would just wait it out and stay out of sight for a bit, just until it felt right to talk about it. It seems that time would usually help to heal the stresses in our blended family. But I know we each did our part to make it all work out. The truth is, no one wants the situation to be difficult.
What's the best thing about being part of a blended family?
I have been able to learn from and get to know all four of my parents. I learned from their mistakes as well as from their successes and triumphs. And frankly, I learned from the hard decisions that seemed so wrong at first, but ended up being so right for us. Each parent is so unique and treats me so differently. I have learned different things from each one. From my dad, I learned responsibility. From Liz, I learned how to be a good friend to others. From Tom, I learned to never stop learning and explore creative endeavors, and from my mom, I learned to be a dreamer and keep an open heart and mind. These life lessons have molded me into who I am as well as helped me as I raise my own kids.
What advice do you have for kids in blended families struggling to find their place?
Open your heart to your stepparent and stepsiblings and ask questions to really get to know them. You need to try to find some common ground with each new member of your blended family and just know that time will pass and wounds can heal.