When I tell people that my boyfriend and I have a blended family, I wonder if they think my life is like a modern day reality show, like Survivor. When I see a group of adults bickering over an immunity idol and dressed in bathing suits 24/7 sitting in front of a roaring fire on the beach in the tropics all I can think is big deal – where’s the challenge? Try having a blended family raising two teenagers of the opposite sex with two totally different interests and personalities. Better yet, see if you can keep up with two parenting schedules, problems with ex-partners, beliefs on parenting styles, and ten loads of girl and boy laundry a week. Survive that!
My life is far from ideal. My dogs need baths, my house is never clean all at once and I forget to turn off the straightening iron. We manage. I have my priorities. At least I don’t forget to feed the kids. I mean how could I? I seem to be at Kroger almost every other day. There is the constant juggling of schedules alternating among two separate households. Who left sporting equipment at mom’s house or their permission slip at dad’s. It seems like something is always forgotten somewhere. Remembering where they have to be all the time is a challenge worthy of an NFL offense coordinator. Oh, how I wish my life were like Carol Brady’s. I’d have time to craft, bake and watch Netflix without interruption. I’d have a maid. Don and I would never argue and I could take a shower without being interrupted. I try to take comfort in the thought that at least I have healthy hair and I’m not walking around in outdated clothes. Truthfully, I like my life and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. When my first marriage ended in divorce and I reentered the single scene at age 37 I truly thought my days of coupledom were over. With a daughter under the age of 10, and trying struggling to support myself as a single mom, not only did I not have the time for dating, I didn’t have the confidence either. I worried that she would not accept a new man in my life or worse, that a new man wouldn’t accept her either. The few childless men I had dated were impatient with or lacked the understanding of the demands and challenges of having a child. On the other hand, guys with kids themselves were in the same predicament I was – no time and no energy. Even though I considered my daughter my greatest asset, I was soon confronted with the harsh reality that not all of my dating prospects thought so. Refusing to believe that my child was a liability, I gave up on dating and retreated into working on myself. Then in April 2007, I met and fell in love with my best friend, a loving and devoted father of a son and we decided to slowly blend our family of four.
When word spread that we were becoming serious, family and friends flooded me with questions. “How did you meet him? Does he have kids? How do they get along? What are the custody arrangements?” The more I answered their questions, the more specific they became. “How do the kids feel about it? How do you split the holidays? Have you met the ex?” I quickly came to realize that not only did they want details; they wanted inspiration and assurance that it was possible for single people to enter into relationships and blend families. I remember one dear friend of mine, now a single mom herself, told me she admired my honesty and courage. Me? I try to keep it real. I’m ecstatically happy now, but when life stinks, and often times it can, I’m not shy about letting everyone know. We have challenges finding the balance on some days and our family life is not always like a bed of roses, but it works because we are devoted to one another and our children this second time around.
While there are a thousand books about blended families, none of them will be able to speak to your exact situation. Our life is in constant progress. This isn’t the life I had imagined. In the life I imagined, I married my college sweetheart, we had two or three children, lived in the country, and built a life together. I had a career in corporate America and was a terrific, balanced mother. We grew old together and the kids visited often. Maybe we bought a camper and traveled the country. Somewhere in the middle, the life I imagined and the life I was living split apart. I divorced and became a single mother. Then, when I least expected it and preaching I’d never fall in love again, this amazing man and his son came into my life and our new story began. This blended stepfamily life I’m living is richer and deeper and harder and louder than the life I imagined. In fact, this life, with its constant motion, resists planning and imagining. It swirls around us, in constant progress. We’re learning lessons about love and inclusion and kindness and patience every day. The gift of this experience, with all of the feelings and people involved, is one I never envisioned.
We are #teamsumner. This is our story. No matter the make-up or the last names, our family is a team. Each person plays a unique role in the structure and function of the family.
Each individual’s strength, trait, and personality all contribute to part of our family dynamics.
Spoiler alert – the day to day life of our blended family often looks like a traditional family.
Our time is spent the same way other families spend their time: arguing about who is going to unload the dishwasher, no phones at the dinner table, or trying to stop the dogs from eating rocks and just like a sports team, everyone has their function for the team – I just happen to be the coach!? The object of the game is to design and build a functioning house and create a family to live happily in it, which is exactly what we have done. Score!