I have been in a “blended” family for about 10 years now. I think the idea of “blended” is a bit of a misnomer. It suggests a certain fluidity, a certain smoothness, a certain coming together as one that has never quite characterized my family. The unit I’ve created with my partner and children has always felt so disrupted, so cobbled together, so ill-fitted that it has, in many ways, been a source of angst and even pain for me. The children really struggled with the divorce, I think, much more than they let on at 3 and 9, much more than they were even aware. Much more than I even had the capacity to address, had I even been able to apprehend it. Of course they struggled with my partnering with someone else, as you might well imagine. I think that the struggle was not only about the fact of the split between their dad and me but also about the significant differences between their dad and their stepdad. Very different kinds of men altogether. And, as anyone who studies relationships or identity development or human interaction will affirm, our “selves” emerge in interaction with other people. I was different with their stepdad than I was with their dad. And I’m sure I was a different mom too. On some occasions that worked in ways they liked, and on others it worked in ways they didn’t. But it was tricky all around. For everybody.
Moments seemed forced. Dinners seemed awkward. Activities were sort of clumsy. I longed for years for a sense of “family unit” but, since my primary goal in partnering was to find the right person for me, rather than marry the right dad for them, my choice didn’t always contribute a sense of us all as “one.” We were more like 1 and 2/3, or 2 and 2, or 3 and 1. And sometimes 1 and 1 and 1 and 1. I realize as I write that one reason this is so painful for me is that I’ve swallowed, over many years, a very narrow image of what gets to count as family. I’ve certainly chosen other paths for myself, but I’ve often walked those paths with trepidation and doubt.
All of this surfaced moments before I wrote this post as my partner and I looked at our Sprint bill. We’ve been struggling to get everyone’s cell phone on the same plan for quite some time but there’s this limit of 5 people and we’ve got 6 (including his two older sons). So one of my kids was with their dad, and the other was with us plus his two children (‘children’ being a misnomer). Anyway, absurdly long story short, we finally got the bill that had all 6 of our cell phone numbers on it. Just listed there altogether on a single family plan. As a unit even. And I felt my eyes well up with tears. Silly, really, how we find metaphors for life in the most unlikely places. Or maybe not all that silly.
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