What is a blended family? Before I found myself as a part of one, I’m not sure I had ever used the term “blended family” even once in my life. Divorce wasn’t something that had happened in my family or extended family. I didn’t have the background information or experience to warrant understanding, but all of a sudden, I found myself smack-dab in the middle of it all.
I fell in love with a divorced, single dad. It wasn’t my plan, but I loved this man. And I loved his kids, so that would be enough, right? The Beatles say, “All you need is love,” and I was sure that if I loved hard enough, everything would work itself out. That’s the idea I held on to as I became a wife and a stepmom in one fell swoop on a beautiful, rainy day in May.
The first few months looked like pancakes for breakfast and forts in the living room and water gun fights in the backyard. It was a summer of learning my boys and learning about parenthood. My husband had the boys 100 percent of the time, and we were able to set the foundation for what our family blending would look like. It wasn’t perfect, but it was pretty darn good.
As with many blended families though, outside circumstances and people can interrupt life and change the dynamic of your normal. What is a blended family without change? Not even halfway through our first year of marriage, we found ourselves in a court battle and shared time with the boys’ other family members—meaning the boys would start spending every other weekend across state lines.
It was a transition for all involved, but especially for our 4- and 7-year-old boys. A lot of change happened, and they didn’t always know how to handle it. As a parent, I knew I was called to lead and guide them in the best way I knew how, but I couldn’t quite figure out how I was supposed to do that when I was hurt and, at times, angry.
It was around this point that I realized how impressionable little eyes and ears can be. They look to you to see how you handle challenges and, many times, take their cues from you. Were my cues positive or negative? Would my cues set the boys up well or cause more confusion as we navigated this new season in life?
As I mentioned before, our ugly court battle left me feeling hurt, exposed, and a little angry. The boys couldn’t see any of this, though, because I did my best to shield them from it, and I never talked negatively about their family.
But I realized it wasn’t enough to just not speak negatively about the boys’ family. I needed to be more proactive.
The boys were the innocent bystanders of the story. They didn’t choose any of this, but other people’s choices determined where they found themselves. For the boys to feel the freedom to love their whole family, even the people outside our home, I needed to encourage their love. That meant doing the opposite of what I felt like doing and doing what was best for the boys.
In the early days this looked like addressing envelopes to their other family members when they were too small to write it themselves. It looked like sitting and listening about their weekend visit without an agenda, and showing excitement about things they were excited about. Small things helped in big ways to let the boys love well.
I remember having a conversation with my oldest stepson about the new dynamics. I told him that God made him with a big heart, which meant that he had plenty of room in his heart to show love to everyone. I gave him permission to love others without having to worry about me and my feelings. Of course, that hasn’t always made things easy. So in times when I’ve struggled, I’ve asked myself whether I want to lead my kids to extend love or to withhold it. And I’ve reminded myself there’s always more room for love in a child’s life.
So, what is a blended family? It’s a choice. A choice to love and to teach love. A choice to extend grace. I didn’t just make this choice in my first year of marriage; I make this choice every day. It’s not always easy, but my boys are always worth it.