When I was growing up I wanted to get married like most little girls do. When I played with my dolls they would eventually get married and they would have a big church wedding and they would live happily ever after. That was how it’s supposed to turn out right? That’s the nuclear family version I grew up with- a dad, a mom and four kids. No mention of an ex wife and some children. Although according to divorce rate statistics the scenario of divorce and remarriage is a scenario that is probably being imagined by little girls playing with dolls more often. It’s becoming the new normal.
In my younger dating days, because I grew up in a nuclear family, I definitely shied away from (ran away from) dating divorced dads. Divorce was becoming as increasing statistic but it still wasn’t the norm. All I had seen or ever heard about stepfamilies/ blended families/second families was purely negative. The vision little girls have of marriage is one of magic,and fairy tale endings with Prince Charming. Not wicked stepmothers and poisoned apples. I said “never will I” but I ended up surprising myself by dating a divorced dad with 3 kids (not just one!) – and then marrying him. It was against what I had previously thought was my better judgement.
At the time I met my future husband I was working in the field of child protection. I had worked front line with families in crisis- most of whom were stepfamilies. I was witness to some of the dynamics and it scared me! What woman thinks about having to share her husband with another woman and ‘their’ children? I heard stories of the dynamics between ex wives and stepmoms and even the ex husband and stepdads.
Was I wrong in my preconceived ideas and opinions about blended families? A resounding yes to those questions…AND no. I’ve learned a thing or two over the years of living step and now with my own recent research and learning. We as blended families have very few (if any) healthy or positive role models or success stories upon which to base our own stories upon. I grew up in the 70’s and on TV there were newer versions of families. One of which was a blended family: The Brady Bunch. They were the ideal stepfamily making the blending of two families look almost seamless and perfect. That version of seamlessness was unrealistic. I bet Greg secretly hated his stepmom and Marcia was passive aggressive with her stepdad. No where did I hear or see or read anything positive about healthy and successful blended families. There was a lot of mass media coverage of negativity. The movies had evil stepmothers, who hated children, and wanted to kill their beautiful stepdaughters because of jealousy (thanks Brothers Grimm!). And in my business of child protection we hear about the stereotype of stepfathers being pedophiles who prey upon single mothers. Other movies made stepfamilies out to be dysfunctional and worthy of Hollywood comedies. As I moved into the possibility of stepmotherdom I wanted to find the honesty and goodness and strength of blended families. I needed to find the triumphs. I wanted something to believe in- hope. But where was it? When it comes to stepmothers, we have even fewer positive role models to show us how to navigate the often messy, confusing and complicated adventure we are about to embark upon. Especially with out the GUILT and judgement attached to it.
Despite the lack of positive role models I thought I knew what I was getting myself into and fell in love- despite my “better judgement”. But I think most women who date a divorced or separated dad have rose coloured glasses. Nobody knows the landscape ahead of time, even the “prepared” ones like me. I think that is truly one of the positives of marrying a man with children. You get to see his capacity for deeper emotional connection to his own kids. It’s an emotional vulnerability that gets exposed. That can trigger the mothering instinct in women.
What are some of the things I have learned so far? Blending a family is tough. Is it anything like the vision I originally had of Disney princess happily ever afters? No. Neither is it the other Disney version of the wicked stepmother wanting revenge. There have been many hurdles to overcome and there are some that are yet to come that we can’t possibly prepare for. I, like most step-moms, have had to adjust my vision of happily ever after. Now it’s a more mature, realistic vision. I now hear from my other step-mama friends that being a stepmom has shown them they have courage, tenacity, love and committment to family and the children not born to them in ways they never thought of before. But it’s a work in progress!