Merging two households into one blended family is never an easy task. It requires patience, commitment, respect, and a whole load of grace for every member of the family to feel truly a part of the new union. And even when you think it’s going great, blind spots will inevitably make themselves known, potentially causing hurt and regret. Elizabeth Oschwald highlights two things that caught her by surprise when she and her husband blended their families.
I thought that because we all fell instantly in love with each other, we were golden.
I thought that since none of the kids were rebellious, disrespectful, or depressed, that everything was great.
I’d thought that because we had fun and were making memories as a new blended family, we must have magically (or supernaturally) mastered the art of family blending almost effortlessly.
All the kids were getting along.
His loved me. Mine loved him.
There was virtually no arguing, with the exception of normal little sibling spats. We were shocked by how easy this was. We attributed our success, partially, to how we parented in our time being single. But in hindsight, we weren’t as great as we thought we were!
Our kids were all very well-behaved and respectful. Beyond that, they were funny and friendly and enjoyable. We thought that we had done the hard part separately. Now, we could coast through the convergence of making our two families one.
To a degree, this was true.
COMPARISON CREATES FALSE POSITIVES
We would hear horror stories from other blended families about how the kids hated each other, fought all the time, and were disrespectful to their new stepparent. We watched movies like “Yours, Mine, & Ours”—and saw how chaotic it could be.
If you haven’t seen the movie (and I recommend you do), it’s about a Navy Officer who, on a whim, marries his high school sweetheart, a hippie purse designer—after reconnecting at their class reunion. They are both widowed and cumulatively have 15 children. Their lifestyles, parenting, and even the culture of their families are SO opposing that after just a few weeks, they are ready to throw in the towel.
Their kids, who basically hate each other, decide to join forces with the sole intent of driving them to divorce. Of course, it ends happily. But you get the picture…
Compared to these blended families, we were winning.
And though in complete integrity, I can say we did the very best we could and there were many things we did really, really well—we also had some major blind spots.
WHAT I WOULD DO DIFFERENTLY
I’ve learned that when you have “good” kids, you sometimes have to dig to see the entire truth. Our children have such deep desires to please us, they sometimes hide their true feelings to avoid disappointing us. I wish we would have looked for struggles we needed to process through with our children, rather than pat ourselves on the back for not having any issues that were blatantly obvious.
We have always been intentional about meals together, quality time, playing games, etc. We started our family with a tradition of nightly devotions and prayer, and all of the kids willingly participated in everything we asked them to do. Whether we asked them to join in something we thought was fun, or simply to do chores—they were agreeable.
I know to many moms, this doesn’t sound like a problem at all!
But I wish we would have asked them if they actually wanted to do all those things, and given them room to express why they did or didn’t. I wish we would have given them more invitations to ask questions, or share their opinions—even if they were different from ours. Thinking back, I wish we wouldn’t have measured our success based on other families’ dysfunction, but rather based on careful assessment of how each member of OUR family was actually doing, beneath the surface.
BUILDING NEW FOUNDATIONS & PROTECTING EXISTING ONES
My daughters and I were incredibly close. I had always been home with them. Without realizing it, I had the mindset, They’re good; my stepkids need more from me so that we can bond and build a strong foundation.
I guess I also felt that I had to earn my stepchildren’s approval. I knew their respect and love was not something I would inherently receive, like a biological parent does. So I intentionally worked toward it and pursued their hearts. What I didn’t realize was that in focusing so much on these new relationships, my own daughters paid a price.
I thought a lot about what it would be like to get a stepmom. And I and really wanted to make sure my stepkids never felt they were loved any less than my biological daughters. I wish I also would have imagined what it felt like for my girls to transition from having my attention divided between just the two of them, to sharing me with five additional people.
In hindsight, I wish I would have asked them if they missed their friends and not assumed that since they didn’t bring it up, they were fine. I wish I would have asked how it felt to move into a home that wasn’t ours.
Did they feel comfortable getting in the refrigerator for a snack? Did they feel nervous to play with toys that weren’t theirs, or to sit in a seat that was unknowingly claimed as someone else’s “spot?”
I was so focused on all of the blessings we were receiving and all the upgrades, that I neglected to dig deeper. But I wish I would have realized you can be grateful and grieving at the same time.
LEANING IN AND TALKING MORE
All families are built one relationship at a time. As our oldest is preparing to move out and three more teenagers are not far behind, reality sets in. We can’t help but ask ourselves: Are we making the most of the time we have with each child?
We had baby number seven two years into blending our families. Charlotte unsurprisingly captured all our hearts, and a lot of our attention. I wish we would have been more intentional to have one-on-one time with the other six kids. I wish I would have realized that while I was so busy capturing her “firsts,” I was unknowingly missing some of their “lasts.”
And yet, when the light shines on these blind spots, with the sting comes an invitation for redemption. I’m grateful it’s not too late to redeem the time. It’s not too late to ask the deeper questions and lovingly dig into each and every heart.
“But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’ Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time” (Ephesians 5:13-16a).
As a mom in a blended family, it sometimes feels impossible to give everyone enough time and attention.
My husband says, “Our love doesn’t get divided. It multiplies.”
And with each seed we plant—each late-night conversation, each coffee date, each Sunday afternoon drive—we make room for God to multiply. He is faithful to fill in all the cracks with His grace. It may be tempting to focus on the positive and avoid the messy digging, but from a mom who’s now digging deep on purpose—I can assure you that messy is good and God is in it.
“So teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).
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