“blend·ed fam·i·ly (noun); a family consisting of a couple and their children from this and all previous relationships.”
Type it into your search engine, and this – or something a lot like it – is what you are likely to see.
I have one. But, I dislike the term “blended family”. Don’t know where it comes from, but it just sounds… too, well… it just sounds too much like cooking.
How to Blend
Smoothies can be really good, depending on what you put into the so-called blender. But what if it’s fruit or vegetables? Those sharp knives down at the blender’s bottom: they turn really fast, and they rip and tear and shred, whether it’s a pear or a carrot – they don’t care. They can be destroyed by the blending process or become wonderful in a different way. Blending a family is also delicate and the way you chose to blend your family is vital.
So in a class in graduate school, we agreed that the “mixed, tossed or untossed salad” is a more appropriate metaphor for the way families change and grow alongside each other. Sometimes the flavor of one affects the flavor of another, sometimes it’s more, sometimes less. The goal is for the individual vegetables to blend in an enhancing way.
Likewise with salad (“blended”) families, family members affect each other to varying degrees, sometimes in a dominant way, sometimes only superficially. One way that I can get to know each member of my family, is to appreciate what they bring, their particular way of making it an even more delicious salad because of them.
Outside the Blender
Sometimes, for example, it doesn’t work that I show my love to my step kids in the same way that I show my love to my biological kids. Due to the different family cultures that each experienced in their formative years, they may or may not receive what I have to offer as love or respect. In their own world of growing up, long before I came along as a stepdad, they may have learned that the particular ways that I care for them has led to betrayal or are hurtful in other ways. It may have nothing to do with my parenting skills or the time I devote to them or the purity of my intentions. They may just not be able to receive my particular expressions of love as love.
I know. In my own life and as a counselor I’ve seen both sides of this equation. Consider this scenario. Growing up in a nuclear family, watching their own parents’ fight, separate and finally divorce, that child may later become a stepson/daughter. Now stepmom and child happen to be getting along great until… oops! “Suddenly” they receive a birthday card and stepmom signs it, “Love from Mom”.
Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait just a minute! Somebody hit the “OFF” switch on that blender! The child suddenly feels torn up, feelings of betrayal of their biological mother, confusion, anger and sadness may surface.
Reactions to Each Other
This internal reaction is not pretty. In the muck and mire of an un-blendedness inside of them, they remember that they and their biological Mom had their problems. Stepmom knew it, and in her mind she was trying to love them by remembering their birthday. Best of intentions, right? But no, the child doesn’t see it that way. Deep down, their mom is their Mom. They don’t want anyone to replace their biological Mom, so they don’t receive stepmom’s birthday card as love. Instead, they receive it as phony and pushy, and feel angry, hurt and disrespected. That’s not uncommon because we tend to judge others based on our past experiences and not always on the behaviors and intentions of the other person.
So for me in my various roles as a counselor, father and a stepdad I want to continue to learn to care for people effectively, and to help others to do the same. Personally as a father and a stepdad, I want to continue to learn how to give love according to the individual needs of all my kids. Some people (kids and adults) feel loved by spending time with them, others by hearing gentle loving words, others by receiving and giving gifts and so on. So in blended families, take the time to get to know what makes others feel loved and then show it in that way.