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Stepfamilies and strawberry ice cream

The first time my stepdaughter came to our home, summed me up with her dark eyes and then wrapped her arms for protection around her Dad, I knew I was smitten; I also knew that distance we feel at times as stepparents.

The U.S. Census Bureau stopped keeping track of such information after 1990, but even then, they reported that about half of all children in the United States will experience the divorce of their parents. About 75 percent of those children will end up with a stepparent. There are a lot of us, but that doesn't make it easy.

Every stepparent longs for the day that they can pile up on the couch with their stepkid, talk about his or her friends and homework and feel completely comfortable. It takes time, but eventually, most days are good ... better than good. But that doesn't mean you won't have "those days."

One of the problems for "blended" families is that most of the time they aren't a blend — but more of a collision. There is the sibling rivalry that happens when two or more wonderful, but very different, children are forced into being part of a family they didn't choose. There are resentments and frustrations. There are old memories of the way things used to be and new stresses adapting to new rules. There is a feeling of being left out — whether it is old jokes and memories, or the bond that ties a biological parent and child. It is tough, but it makes us grow in new and unexpected ways.

If a nuclear family is like a smooth ice cream shake, a blended family is more like strawberry ice cream — a lot of creamy vanilla (one family) with chunks of something bright and fresh throughout (members of the other family). Together, they make something wonderful and new.

How has your blended family struggled with the adjustment to the new normal? If you were a flavor of ice cream, which would you be? Rocky Road? Birthday Cake? Southern Pecan?

Jennifer is the mom of two teenage girls, one of whom is shared with her mom in Pennsylvania. Both of whom love ice cream.


September 2011