Blended families are tough, man.
I met my husband in 2013 and married him in 2016. We both came into the relationship with a son. My stepson was nine when I met him and mine was three. I never wanted to force the relationships in my new family, but somewhere around year two, I started to panic that we might never “gel.” My dinners weren’t a hit. Movie night was kind of a failure. Playing the role of mom to both boys didn’t work, but slipping into the friend role with my stepson was not an option. So what am I to him? An ally? An auntie? A drill sergeant? It’s been so confusing for so long.
There are no instructions for step-parenting. I grew up with two, married parents who served dinner at the dinner table and packed lunches and went on daily outings with their kids. So I wanted to “mom” my stepson from day one the way I was always taught to “mom”! Only one problem – he has a mom. His mom grew him and gave birth to him and is a part of his life. Me? I first met him at a bar-b-q and we exchanged about 10 words, 4 of which were, “Nice to meet you.” We have no history. We have no life of memories together from shared experiences. We don’t even have much in common.
I tried desperately for years to make a meaningful connection with my stepson. I tried to construct the perfect family out of these four family-shaped pieces, but nothing fit. Essentially at a certain point, I gave up trying. I quit planning perfect outings and photo-worthy dinners. I let everybody do what made them comfortable, not because I’m a deeply spiritual person who chose to release resistance; I did it because I was sick of trying.
My husband and stepson started going to the movies together while my son and me went to the park. We all ate breakfast at different times. A lot of times we were all in separate rooms even though we were all home.
But once I gave up and stopped trying to “set the scene,” I realized I was actually meeting everyone else in my family where they were. And slowly, moments of authentic togetherness happened here and there.
More recently, it seems like my new “giving up” method is finally starting to pay off. I’m figuring out my role in my stepson’s life, and he’s starting to respect it. It’s a pretty undefinable role: maternal figure mixed with loving adult mixed with standards-setter…and a few other nebulous roles, too. As we allow ourselves to figure this out, my husband’s role with my son is getting clearer, and our time all together is all making more sense. It’s not the image I held in my mind for so long; I had to let that one go when I gave up. It’s an image we’re creating from scratch.
It’s easy to try and force authentic relationships (like I did in the beginning). But for blended families, it’s a long-game, and the wait is worth it.
We may not all eat at the dinner table or watch the same movies. We may never. We don’t rely on that stuff to define “family.” We’re defining it ourselves.
P.S. My stepson’s football team won the championship this weekend and I screamed like he was in the NFL. It’s possible I embarrassed him. That’s definitely one of my definitions of family he is still getting used to…
Erin Salem is a wife, mom, writer, lazy chef, and author of the book Finding Inner Peas due Spring of 2018. She laughs out loud at least three times a day and tries to make other people laugh out loud at least three times a day, too. Erin regularly ingests carbohydrates and almost never drinks enough water. Her life just gets better and better. You can find more info on her site or follow her on Instagram.
Image courtesy of Kat Jayne.