Happy Stepfamily Day!
Today is Stepfamily Day. I can’t think of a better time to share a few of the first family photos we’ve ever taken where the word ‘family’ didn’t feel like a bad joke.
We all have these ideas in our heads of “should.” How life should be. What should define success. And, at its most basic, what a family should look like. And I’m no different. So finding myself in the middle of a blended family, especially coming from a very traditional household, took no small amount of mental attitude adjustment on my part.
I always had certain expectations for a family. Not even huge expectations; just little stuff. We eat dinner together, maybe. Or we sit together at school plays and swim meets and piano recitals. The kids complain about doing chores and homework, or we get lost trying to find our hotel on family vacations. I don’t know. Family-ish things.
In a blended family, some of those definitions still apply, but it’s like… our entire lives are reflected at odd angles from a funhouse mirror. Because our days are sorta kinda like an actual family’s should be, but most of the time life is different. Sometimes super different. Sometimes unrecognizable.
And you’re never allowed to forget it. Every time I fill out a form that asks for the family last name and I have to try and cram four different names in there, I’m reminded that the world isn’t built to work for families like ours. Or if I have to write down an emergency contact for Miss G and I think “Do I put Dan down where it asks for the dad’s name, when he’s right here and her biological father is hundreds of miles away? What’s really more practical in an emergency? But then, what’s more ethical?”
Normal families don’t have these problems.
And ultimately, I guess that’s the real crux of being part of a blended family: we don’t think of ourselves as normal. Or maybe we don’t think of ourselves as a real family at all, just a hodgepodge of distinct individuals tossed into the same house in a bizarre kind of survival-of-the-fittest. Only no one ever gets voted off the island.
But this summer, our blended family did a Real Family thing, which was to take some family photos. The wonderful Sonja from Sonja K Photography (who was also responsible for our amazing wedding pics) was a very good sport about Dan sandbagging her (well, all of us) into a semi-hike to an unbelievably gorgeous spot. And we pretended like we were an actual family for an hour or so.
Except, we weren’t pretending.
In a blended family, there are infinite attempts to do Real Family things, all of which end up feeling like a disastrous farce more often than not. Like we are the Kmart jewelry counter equivalent of a thoughtful gift. We’ve gone through stressful Thanksgivings, invented Christmas celebrations, and plan multiple parties for every birthday because that’s how you have to do it when no one lives with you full-time.
So posing for family pictures and feeling actual love there– well, that was pretty goddamned fantastic.
So, happy Stepfamily Day to my amazing family-by-choice, and to all the other blended families out there. We have all worked our asses off to get here.
Oh hey there, struggling stepparent!
Listen, I put together a new website just for high-conflict blended families: Blended Family Frappé. Come on over and join the hundreds of other stepparents who are reclaiming their sanity one Sunday newsletter at a time.