I was comfortable being a mom of two children. Two was what I felt I could adequately give my time, attention, and resources to. As an only child, I remember visiting my friends who had big families and marveling at the joyous chaos of brothers and sisters, multiple personalities and interests, kitchens bustling with activity, and hallways echoing with laughter (and sometimes fights). When I became an adult, my romanticized childhood views of big families seemed unrealistic or too overwhelming for me to tackle.
My marriage dissolved and I met a great guy who reminded me how to feel happy again, and I knew it was love! I swallowed hard when I first learned that he had four kids- four?! Four on its own, in my book, was a lot; but, add his four to my two, and that’s a whole lot of, well, everything!
We did it! Somehow, we managed to intertwine and our two families into one massive unit of 8! Let me be the first to tell you that it’s not always pretty! In fact, we have more than our fair share of teenage drama in our house right now…we have an 18, 15, 14, and 13-year-old under one roof right now- oy vey! So, yes, we have our moments of pulling hair out over attitude and adolescent choices, but we also share many beautiful moments.
My heart was warmed this past weekend as three beautiful kids, who have all come to think of one another as real siblings, helped me cook for hours in preparation for Thanksgiving. I think what warms my heart most of all is seeing the bonds form between our kids. Both of our youngest are ten and they spend almost every waking hour together. My 13-year-old has special needs and has never successfully made any real friendships, but has found a best friend in his 15-year-old stepbrother. Both of these boys are somewhat awkward socially and have unique interests that don’t make them fit completely in anywhere else; but, together and in our home, they have found completion.
What has been the secret to our unity as a blended family? Let me emphasize again that I do not profess to be perfect, but I will certainly say that my husband and I put our all into our family and they are everything to us. We were once strangers, and we are now forever linked. It didn’t happen immediately, but with these eight points in place, we have formed one family:
Faith. We share a spiritual base that is significant to all of us and a major part of our lives. We partake in services every Sunday at church, and we expect all the kids to participate and serve in some fashion. In our small congregation, six kids showing up ready to acolyte, play music, or read lessons makes a huge impact! They have opportunities to grow in their faith, and as a family, during projects in the community and by attending a week of summer camp that they all look forward to!
Routine. Of course, we have daily routines that they expect such as getting up for school and following our strict bathroom schedule to make sure that all eight people get a turn to complete morning hygiene. And, yes, the kids know they will all have chores to complete, and that someone will probably have practice, perhaps a concert, or even work after school. Beyond the mundane routine, we have also set fun routines that are firmly engrained into our household. We always have Friday family movie night, every week, no matter what! The kids know that we will all gather around the living room, I will bake cookies, and we will share those two hours together uninterrupted.
Mealtime. We have a big dining table and a lot of mouths to feed! It is my privilege to plan out a nice dinner for every evening we are together (every other week, one week at-a-time), and I pour my love into nourishing them. Without fail, we dine together every night. This is our opportunity to see all six faces at one time, to make announcements, talk about our days, have discussions, and stay in tune with each other. It is invaluable. When we sense relations are strained between some of the kids, we play the compliment game. Everyone has to take a turn saying something genuinely nice about everyone else at the table!
Pets. We are busy people always on the go, but we felt that our home needed a little extra love to go around and an opportunity for the kids to learn some responsibility and caretaking skills. We adopted two guinea pigs, named Phoebe and Bianca, who are the apple of the kids’ eye! Yep, we sometimes have fights over who gets to hold them or who has to clean their very large habitat; but, all of the kids are over the moon with the cute and silly antics of our little creatures, and our pets have helped to further knit our kids together with a shared purpose and interest.
Support. They’re not always in the mood, but when one of the kids has an important event, such as an orchestra concert, we all go to show our interest and support. I believe that it’s very important for them to make an effort to be involved with activities of their siblings and to be present to encourage their success!
Tradition. We have continued to respect the unique ways each of us likes to celebrate important moments, and have also incorporated new traditions into our created family. Our children have bonded every year over making gingerbread houses together at Christmas and exchanging Secret Santa gifts amongst themselves. They know to expect certain foods for specific holidays and occasions, and they revel in the memories of fun times from our past together.
Shared activities. Our kids are busy and have plenty of their own activities, but we make sure to try and involve them in many shared activities, as well. Whenever possible, I sign similar age kids up for camps and classes (e.g. our two youngest have attended countless art classes and bike safety camp together) or they are all involved if the activity allows. This past year the five youngest all participated in 4H and worked together to complete projects about rockets, sewing, bicycling, and computer programming!
Staying on the same page. We find it necessary, often as much as once a week, to gather the whole tribe for a family meeting to communicate one consistent message about our household expectations, to make announcements, to offer praise to those doing well, or to address issues we need to work on. We have found that there is much less of the “us versus them” mentality when they know we have set rules and consequences across the board and equal responsibilities.
Every day is an adventure. Some days we blend beautifully, and other days end in tears. The most important thing is to never put up the white flag, and always leave room for growth and improvement. Each stepfamily can discover what makes its heart beat and form unique ways of bonding. Good luck!