Shortly after meeting my ex-husband, his daughter moved in with us and I became a stepmom. About a year later, I got pregnant with my son and we became a blended family. The dynamic between all of the adults was complicated, but I tried not to overstep any boundaries. I didn’t want to perpetuate the “evil stepmother” or “Cinderella Effect,” a theory that says children are more likely to experience mistreatment and abuse if they have stepparents than they are if they’re raised by two genetic parents.
Now that I’m divorced, I’m constantly thinking about how I will adjust to my son being a stepchild in another woman’s home. If I’m being completely honest, I initially hated the idea of him having a stepmom or another happy family that didn’t include me. This was one thing my ex and I had in common–he despised the thought of my son having a stepfather and new family also.
As for me, it’s unlikely my son will have to adjust to a blended family from my side of the pond. I have no desire to remarry, live with a partner, have more kids, or parent other’s kids. The most that will likely happen is my son will meet a new partner of mine (But because the Internet never forgets, I will also say “never say never”). Still, it’s something that could eventually happen if and when his dad decides to start a new family. It’s important I become more open to the idea so I don’t experience an emotional upheaval every time my son spends time with his potential new family. It’s also critical for my son’s sake. Kids can sense when you’re uncomfortable with the other parent and their new partner and it can put them in an unfair position. They should be free to love both sides of their family. Your personal issues shouldn’t make them feel the need to choose sides.
So, how will I help my son adjust to a blended family? Here are a few things I’m working through, with the help of therapy, to prepare that I think could be of use to others.
Let Go of Your Obsession With the ‘Perfect’ Family
When I would lament to my therapist about how mad at myself I was for creating another broken home, she would ask why I was so attached to this idea of a nuclear family. Life isn’t picture-perfect, so I had to embrace the many family structures that exist. Instead of focusing on what my family no longer was, I had to think about what it could be. Plus, my situation isn’t so unique. A 2021 study by East Carolina University found over 113 million Americans are part of a step-relationship.
The same study also states the components that make a successful step-relationship are household stability, relationship stability, and economic stability. So, if these elements exist within your blended family, the chances of success, and peace, may be higher.
On that note, I’m more open to the possibility that I can be part of a blended family that is comprised of healthy relationships and kids feeling love from all sides.
Heal From the Relationship
Tons of grieving, journaling and therapy had to happen before I could get to a place where I felt less resentment towards my ex. I want my son to see healthy interactions between his dad and I and that means letting go of the past and moving forward with our new normal. If you expect a blended family to work for the kids, it’s imperative all adults put their egos aside.
What if you’re healed and you’ve moved on but your ex partner is still holding onto the past? Or his new partner is problematic? You can’t control other people’s behavior but you can focus on yours. If everyone is open to it, therapy could be a good solution.
Check In With the Kids Often
One thing I wish both of my parents did when they remarried is ask more about how I felt about such a big change. Although I was in my late twenties when it happened, it still would have been nice to have that support. If adults struggle to adjust to a blended family, how much more difficult is it for kids? I hope to give my son a safe space to express how he feels. If he becomes overwhelmed, I hope his father, any new partners involved, and myself can work together to come up with solutions that are best for his well-being.
Clearly Communicate Boundaries
Boundaries are huge when it comes to blended families. I am in one now (my dad remarried) and I know it’s easy to overstep them.
All adults involved should talk about what they feel comfortable with within this new parenting/co-parenting dynamic. This could include how kids address stepparents, how often the other parent can communicate when the child isn’t with them, or even children disrespecting the stepparent.
Alicia Keys and Mashonda Tifrere are a good example of a blended family. Tifrere’s son calls Keys “umi,” which means mother in Arabic, and they openly talk about how much work and communication it took to get to where they are. When the adults communicate effectively, it’s only natural that kids will follow suit.
As with any major change in life, sometimes it takes time to adjust. With all that being said, throw the idea of overnight success away and manage your expectations for the benefit of yourself and all parties — kids especially — involved.