I'm a stepmom and proud of it. But, I truly believe there's nothing blended about marrying someone who brings kids to the marriage while you also bring kids to the marriage. Or, later the two of you add a kid to the mix, which is what I can speak to. Stirred, mixed, grouped together, cobbled, mingled, but not blended.
That doesn't mean that putting families together can't work, and work reasonably well. We've made it work, and I think we rank right up there on the "exceeds expectations" end of the scale. The fact is there is no golden guidebook that provides any solutions, let alone a one-size-fits-all plan. Frankly, it's challenging even when all parties play nice. And, even when they attempt to they often aren't performing to the shared tune of what "playing nice" really means.
The important point here is that it's okay to not buy into the blended family concept. The very definition explains why: "To combine or associate so that the separate constituents or the line of demarcation cannot be distinguished." This definition speaks to blending eye shadow from the perfect palette, or blending smoothies to the point of complete togetherness between bananas and strawberries, or blending patches of a quilt until you've formed one single piece. It connotes melding of people and personalities, and no family wants that, divorced or not.
I had never been married when I met my now husband, and overnight I gained an instant family. The part I don't wish on others and what I went through is the guilt when it wasn't all picket fences and posies. My husband's kids hated me at times, and I hated the situation. Yet, hate in these scenarios is really about loss and fear, and there is no Chapter 4 of a manual telling you it's not as bad as it feels and the hate you feel really isn't hate. But it lures you into taking on a disguise where you're the dark and scary villain, and acting evil feels better than acting any other way.
I remember early in my marriage, the first couple of years, playing the villain well. I didn't know any better.
I had no manual or person to talk to about my experience and what it felt like to be the villain, or as some called me, the wicked stepmother.
Being me was painful. I sucked often. I behaved badly, the kids behaved badly, the kids' mother matched the bad behavior and my husband was perpetually caught in a balancing act in the middle, which leads to dysfunction and far from blended.
Fast forward nearly 20 years. Behaviors are better. Our combined family loves each other, we share mutual respect, we enjoy family gatherings, we're there for each other in good and bad times, and we all remember how far we've come. It feels good, and right. We've navigated a graduation, a family wedding, a baby shower, holidays and other awkward moments with the other side of the family. And, we've survived with only minor "blending" scars.
Now if only we could come up with a word to replace "blended." Maybe bound, not like in bondage, but bound together with love. It has possibility. Or, amalgamated? That easily rolls off the tongue. Maybe merged? Yet, we're not a company. I'm not so sure we need any adjective to define us. We're family, and that sounds just right to me.
Debra Carnes is a working mom by day and blogger by night. You'll find this post and others on her blog at A Touch of Clash.