Why Stepparenting Is A 'Thankless Job' With The 'Greatest Rewards'

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!

This week, our reader Kellee shares with us how she and her husband worked to integrate their two distinct parenting styles -- and how having realistic expectations has made their family stronger.

Hi Kellee. Want to introduce us to your family?
My husband, Kurt, and I have a unique 21st century blended family of six. Nate is our oldest son at 15. Nate's not Kurt’s biological son, or mine. When Kurt met his ex-wife, she had Nate from a previous relationship. Kurt was the only father figure Nate had growing up, so naturally he is included in our family. He lives with us full time as well.

I brought two children into our marriage, James, 13, and my daughter Maddy, 9. Then we have Garrett, 11, who is Kurt’s biological son. Kurt also has a 13-year-old daughter than lives out of state with her mom.

We have joint custody of Kurt’s boys, but because we homeschool, they are here Monday-Friday. We have my two kids full-time as their father lives across the country.

(Photo courtesy of Kellee Mulkerin-Ford)

How long have you and Kurt been together?
Kurt and I met through eHarmony on October 15, 2010 (it does work!) and married on October 15, 2011. All the kids were in the wedding. Nate escorted Maddy, the flower girl, down the aisle. James carried the ring for me to give to Kurt and Garrett carried the ring that Kurt was to give to me.

What's the best thing about being part of a blended family?
Honestly, the kids reap the most rewards! They now have extra parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends and siblings that love them and protect them. You should see how many Christmas cards they get from family. We are very lucky that they all have been so accepted by their extended “step” families. They can get different views and help that were not available before.

Our kids learn from each other. They stick up for each other. Our kids are more bonded and are better friends than some blood siblings! We have great kids. Sometimes it is hard to see that through messy rooms or the rolling eyes of teens, but we are damn lucky with our herd.

What are some of the biggest challenges of blended family life?
Raising kids when you have two different parenting styles is easily the biggest challenge. We have very different parenting styles and views on what we think is appropriate. I am the calm, organized, read-all-the-parenting books, type-A parent. Kurt is the "friend parent." We have clashed before, but through time and help, we have meshed our styles together. The key is consistency. Also, being a united front is integral to blending such different parenting styles.

Adjusting was harder on some more than others. One in particular had a rough 18 months or so. They are still adjusting. What people don’t understand is that a blended family is an ever-changing entity. For instance: one child will be fine until something happens with the other biological parent. A fight, a new residence, a new partner, an illness, a death. These things are ripples that start out small to us but can affect kids in the most profound ways. It can make them feel scared not knowing what is going on or what will change next. We just have to be ready for the next wave to hit and support them and love them through it.

What makes you proudest of your family?
I am so proud of how much work we have all put in to this family. It isn’t always easy. Sometimes you just want to tear your hair out, but I think that just goes along with parenting and marriage! When I hear the youngest two off giggling under their massive tent, so proud of their teamwork, I beam. When the oldest two are running up and down the stairs because they absolutely have to tell the other one something, right then I melt.

What's your advice for stepparents struggling to keep it together?
I would tell them to stop thinking that things are going to be perfect. It's not going to happen. The kids will not get along all the time, the house will be not always be quiet, you will not always hear "please" and "thank you." It isn’t realistic. What is realistic is taking stock of how incredibly lucky you are to have more children to love and to guide. Think of how lucky those kids are to have you to protect them, to cry with them, or to just bump into on the way to the pantry. Being a stepparent is only hard when you look at yourself as a stepparent. You are a parent. You wouldn’t love your adopted child less or think of them as anything other than your child. It takes strong people to be step parents because sometimes it is a thankless job where you may be seen as the enemy and the ex gives you the stink eye every time you see them. It also has the greatest rewards.

Scroll down for more photos of Kurt and Kellee's family.

If you'd like your own family to be featured on a Blended Family Friday, please email us at divorce@huffingtonpost.com. We're looking forward to hearing your story!

Kellee Mulkerin-Ford
Kellee Mulkerin-Ford
Kellee Mulkerin-Ford
Kellee Mulkerin-Ford
Kellee Mulkerin-Ford

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