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.
Veronica and Martin had one shared goal when they married and brought their two sets of kids together a few years back: They were dead set on making sure everyone got the attention they needed, especially Veronica's autistic twin boys.
"We have modified the home to give everyone the space and special attention they need," Veronica told us. "We're very proud of our family of three years and the accommodations we have made for all of them. It's been a time of transition but we've come out a very strong, happy family."
Below, Veronica and Martin tell us more.
Hi Veronica! Want to introduce us to your family?
There are six of us in all. There's me and my husband Martin, and our four kids: Wilson, 14; Quinton, 14; Anja, 12; and Freya, who's 9. The girls are from Martin’s first marriage, the boys are from mine.
(Photos by Adam Heimerman)
How long have you and Martin been together?
We met in 2009 and married two years later. We began our relationship as friends and introduced each other and our children as friends. We feel very strongly that many single parents are too quick to introduce their children to everyone they date as a girlfriend or boyfriend. We believe children need consistency of people in their lives, and children of divorce understandably have a lot of confusion about love relationships. We have a lot of evidence in our family to show that it was the right thing for the children to all be friends before they were siblings.
What are some of the biggest challenges of blended family life?
Veronica: In the beginning, I was very concerned about the boys and me moving into the house that already belonged to Martin and the girls. I was also concerned with the logistics of the boys moving to a new house, because they have autism. Children with autism need a great deal of continuity to feel secure. It was very important to me that we establish enough space for everyone to not feel like a blended family was an intrusion or an inconvenience, so before the marriage, we remodeled the basement to make two extra bedrooms for the boys and a family space for us all to enjoy.
Martin: We try hard to be sure all of our children see us as caring parental figures rather than nagging stepparents. We have to make sure our expectations are reasonable given our amount of custody of each child, the child’s age, the effect of autism, and each child’s emotional needs for stability.
What's the best thing about being part of a blended family?
Veronica: We’re never bored! We work hard and we play hard. Life is constantly changing with new challenges as all the different children hit various milestones. Someone’s always having a new success to celebrate or a new hurdle to overcome, and we do our best to ensure that every one of us acknowledges the accomplishments of everyone else. The widely varied interests of the four children keep life interesting; we’ve done art lessons, piano lessons, horseback riding, cake decorating, girl scouts, video game conventions and so much more! We try very hard to make the most of our time together and have lots of fun while our kids are still kids. We want to leave them with memories that make them feel secure and teach them how to have positive family experiences with their own kids someday. We feel lucky to live in a place where we can easily and inexpensively go off to the mountains for the day, go tubing down a river, book a whitewater rafting trip, or take a quick road trip to Nashville for a rock musical.
What makes you proudest of your family?
Veronica: The added dimensions and perspectives brought to everyone by having a more diverse family have been powerful. The advantage of having neurotypical sisters enter their lives has been so great for the boys’ social and communication skills. The girls now look at their peers with less judgment and with more compassion after having the boys in their lives and learning to recognize and interact with the traits of autism. The joy of a simple family dinner where all the children interact with normal conversation and laughter gives us certainty that we made the right decision in forming this family.
How do you deal with stress in your household?
Veronica: We think a lot. We plan a lot. We laugh a lot. Martin and I make sure that we always work as hard as the other. We make a really great team in parenting. I’m an obsessive calendar manager; I really believe that the more we are all aware of what’s going on with each other from extracurricular activities to separate vacations over school breaks, the less stressed we feel. It can be very confusing with some of the children going back and forth between two households, riding different school buses, having kids in four different schools and juggling all the many different activities and interests of four very different children.
Martin: We are always discussing, second guessing, reviewing and challenging ourselves to see if we are parenting the right way. We always look for ways to do it better to help the children grow up to be the best people they can be as well as to make them as tolerable as possible.
What advice do you have for other blended families who feel like a peaceful family dynamic is out of reach?
Veronica: Don’t forget that you don’t all have to do everything together. We believe it’s important to also have special days just for one or two of the children at a time. We took a trip to NYC last year with just the boys because they needed all of our attention to make sure they could learn to deal with all the sensory data of the big city. Martin sometimes takes one or both of the girls on a bike ride, a camping trip, or a daddy dinner date. The girls really like clothes shopping trips with just me. We are very aware that no one needs five other people around all the time; sometimes, you need the quiet moments with family, too -- and that includes quiet moments for just dad and mom!