I’ve talked a little bit about some of the challenges of second marriage (Chapter Two). I’ve talked about the challenges of parenting frequently. But what about blended parenting? My friends, it is the biggest blessing and the biggest challenge. I don’t even know how to start writing about it!
When my husband and I started talking about what this family would look like, we were very clear on one thing. We’re not steps. We’re not replacements. We’re simply family. As soon as the wedding vows were read, and he and I became husband and wife, we didn’t want to step-dad and step-mom to our new daughters; we just wanted to be their mom and dad. No yours, mine, and ours. Just… ours.
Because there are no steps in the family of Christ. When you are adopted as heirs of the Kingdom, God doesn’t look at you as His stepchild, one He loves slightly less than another child. No, you are fully God’s child. 100% beloved heir of the King. We wanted to impart this gospel picture onto our daughters, even in the tiniest way.
The transition was fairly easy for my biological daughter (our youngest). She had spent almost her entire life up until this point with me at my parents’ home. And although she missed her Nana and Papa and Auntie and Uncle dearly, she was ready to have a Daddy in her life. So ready, in fact, that when we explained to her what being engaged meant back when he proposed in January, she immediately started calling him Daddy, asked every single day when we were getting married, and quite literally started packing her bags to move in (at the time, we weren’t getting married until August, so we struggled to get her to slow her roll. “Stop moving all your toys to his house, you have another eight months!” Simpler times).
For his biological daughter (our oldest), it was a little different. She was thrilled! So excited to be getting a sister and a new mommy! But she really missed her first mommy. As far as healing goes, she was in a really healthy place after the trauma of watching cancer destroy her family: missing mommy, understanding that she’s in heaven, and knowing that her family members were still wracked with grief. And grief is a funny thing in four year olds… One minute she’s fine, the next she and I are sitting in the rocking chair crying together because the pain hit out of nowhere.
I was privileged enough to get to be a loving mother figure in her life for that entire first summer. I didn’t mother her, I couldn’t as the girlfriend (which she didn’t know as we kept our relationship a secret from the children until Christmas time). But I loved her and consistently showed her that I was there and she wasn’t alone. I think if I had just tried to be her mom from the start, we wouldn’t have the relationship we have today.
She started calling me Miss Mommy as a joke in March. But it became more than a joke. It became what she’d whisper in my ear as I left the house after dinner, what she’d say when she held my hand or let me cuddle her on the couch. Miss Mommy slowly turned into just Mommy. And shortly after, because Covid, I was married to her Daddy and 100% her Mommy.
And gosh, I love both my girls. Ironically, in personality, his biological daughter is more like me and my biological daughter is more like him. Both also share similar genetic makeup (Irish and Italian) and we love having these crazy Irish twins, only 8 months apart. After six months of marriage, they have fully adjusted to not just having two parents, but having these two particular parents.
But parenting is tricky. As used to our personalities as they were at the familial genesis, neither of them were really prepared for what it looks like when two parents who have been functionally single parenting for so long suddenly work together. We laboured long into the night frequently as we discussed how to best raise these girls in godliness. My husband and I found ourselves not in survival mode anymore and, for the first time for both of us, we were able to really develop plans for discipline, plans for how we would function as a family, and plans for education together.
The kids hated it.
All of a sudden, misbehaviours which had previously been swept under the rug as he and I had neither the time nor energy to deal with them were being dissected. Sins were being punished. There were new expectations like, “Make your bed!” “Say thank you!” “Don’t push your sister!” And of course, this was all the fault of the other parent.
The youngest said she wanted to go back to Papa because he was the favourite Daddy. (“He can’t be your favourite daddy. He’s my Daddy. He can be your favourite Papa though!”) The oldest told me that I wasn’t her favourite Mommy. (“That’s okay. But I’m the Mommy that God has given you right now.”). Establishing authority in our kids’ worlds was hard. But kids are scrappy. They adjust and now, half a year later, I can say that we are fairly adjusted to the other parent’s authority.
My oldest still struggles sometimes. She loves to go her own way and can be wise in her own eyes. When I give her instructions she doesn’t like, it’s not uncommon for her to find a way to try to usurp my authority in her life in very clever ways. For example, she didn’t finish her breakfast in the appropriate time on Monday morning, so I told her to clear her place. She gave me an angry face, but didn’t argue. Later in Calendar Time, I mentioned that it had been six months since Daddy and I got married. I said that he was my favourite person in the whole world. “Do you know who my favourite person is? Amanda. Not you.” I don’t know what reaction she hopes to get out of me when she says these things, but I just nod and move on generally. There’s a difference between when we talk about how much she loves and misses Amanda (which we do less and less as she heals) and when she tries to weaponise her as an attack on authority. My youngest is less sophisticated. When she tries to attack authority, she calls me “the worst,” which is a little easier to cope with.
Blending is hard. Sometimes it’s easier to discipline the youngest because I don’t have any fear of her saying “You’re not my real mom!” or “I love my other mom more than you!” She just accepts the consequences for her actions and moves on. With the oldest, I fear that any act other than coddling is seen as unloving. I fear having discipline held over my head. What if she sees my acts of love as acts of malice? I’ve already had to listen to the opinions of grandparents who think I’m mean and horrible because she’s “just been through so much” and anything other than doting is less than she deserves. Hearing it from grandparents is one thing, hearing it from you daughter who you love more than life is another. When the outside world already wants to paint you as Cinderella’s wicked step mother, you spend every day terrified that this is what you’ll become in your child’s eyes.
But I wouldn’t be a good mom if I didn’t treat them with equity. How can I teach them right from wrong if one can get away with lying, or being rude, or disobeying, and the other can’t? How can I be truly loving if I let them go down paths that will hurt them? Maybe it’ll take several years, but I hope one day they can see that I loved them both with every fibre of my being, with every weary day and every sleepless night, with every time I cried over having to punish them, and every time I was elated over rewarding them.
Yes, blending is hard. I can’t imagine how hard it would have been if we didn’t have this extra time together. Covid has been an unexpected blessing for our family. We were able to spend the majority of our blending months together with lots of family time. So many hikes and escapes to empty beaches, long car rides to nowhere, family movie nights, and sweet dinner time stories. Most of our blending happened in a very natural way, sharing the necessarily family bonding moments that are crucial for cementing even natural born families.
I am proud of the leaps these two girls have made together. Both of them had rough lives for those first four years. But as I listen to them play barbies upstairs right now, both laughing and dramatically telling stories, I see two healed girls. I pray every day that the memories of the hard and scary things will fade, while the happy memories remain. And I pray that they will continue to grow together as most beloved members of this family.