By: Steve Palmer
The popular television show Modern Family stars several families who are connected to one another through various relationships. Have you seen it? It’s a very funny and entertaining show, but another important reason to watch it is because it portrays a pretty accurate view of how our society has changed to accommodate the various “new” definitions of “family”. There is a so-called traditional family (mom, dad, two kids), a same-sex couple raising their daughter, and a blended family (dad, mom and her biological son).
I celebrate and support all forms of families, both personally and in the work I do as a marriage and family therapist everyday. At home, I also happen to live in a blended family. I really appreciate the things that make us strong, vibrant, and happy. We often seem to hear more about the potential downside of blending families – and the risks are real: higher divorce rates in second marriages, conflict between biological kids and step-parents, trouble with the ex-spouse, etc. But with patience, openness, and hard work, these families can be just as amazing, too.
[Related: Tips for raising kids in a blended family.]
I hope that sharing a few of my own insights about blended families can help us all appreciate our own families – the ones we come out of and the ones we create together with those we love. Here are my Top Five reasons blended families are awesome:
5. Blending families gives you more to love. I married my wife when she had four young kids. She and her ex-husband were determined to keep their relationship positive. We’ve had two more kids together, she and I, and now we have this big mess of a group of folks who are there for connecting-to, providing support, and giving the help we all need. We are lucky enough to count my wife’s ex as an ally and friend in the family – he’s usually around for most celebrations and holidays.
4.There’s so much to learn from all these relationships. Jon Kabat-Zinn invites us to think of our children as “little Zen masters” who parachute into our lives to help us learn lessons like patience, trust, and managing our own emotions. This sometimes seems to be exponentially true with all the relationships we have – biological kids to biological parents, blended kids to me, my kids to the wife’s ex, my interactions with my wife’s ex, his interactions with her, and on and on… plenty of Zen masters and plenty of lessons to learn! And I haven’t even gotten into all the grandparents!
3. Blended families help us really focus on what makes us a family – love. When one of our first four kids said in a fit of anger, “you’re not my real dad, anyway!” I had the chance to remind her (and remember myself) that our relationship is based on love and commitment, not simply on “blood.” I often say to the kids things like, “you don’t get to choose your family, they choose you,” along with statements about our family values, like, “families cooperate,” or “let’s try to be loving.” Statements like, “go to your room and cool down,” or “I’m sorry, I messed that up,” fit in there somewhere too.
2. Families are families. Of course there’s a lot more in common amongst the many kinds of families today than there is that makes us different, so all the stuff that works for other families works for us! For instance, ParentFurther’s Nine Parenting Strategies are based on loads of research about raising kids who turn out well. And the research says, Happy, well-adjusted kids—ready for adult life—can be brought up in all sorts of family constellations. What really matters is the way we love, support and challenge our kids as they develop. I can talk with friends from all sorts of family groupings and share joys and sorrows, battle stories and laughs. Being family unites us to everyone, really.
1. Blended families are fun! Despite the challenges that can come with a blended family, it can be a really great adventure. Flexibility with parenting allows my wife and I to have times where we can be alone and know the kids are being loved and cared for as much as we would do for them. The kids can come and go in groups that work for our many schedules and needs. And we can enjoy each other in all those various constellations. We have all these people to create more conversations, more exploration of life, more adventures, and more fun.
I kinda love it, actually.
Learn more about blended families at:
1. American Psychological Association. (n.d.) “Making stepfamilies work.”
2. Kabat-Zinn, J. & Kabat-Zinn, M. (1997). Everyday blessings: The inner work of mindful parenting. New York: Hyperion.
3. Reader’s Digest Online. “The benefits of blended families: A look at the hidden strengths of blended families.”