I used to be normal. I didn't have to introduce my husband with a number. I didn't have to answer inquisitive stares from people I hadn't seen in a while, wondering who these new "family" people were. I used to send Christmas cards every single year, but haven't sent any in over 20 years because I could never figure out how to put what was happening, what had happened and the changes in my life into one of those cheerful, normal-perfect-family Christmas letters. I didn't have to think about how to sign birthday cards to the kids in my own house. I never had to count the number of family photos I hung on the walls based on the children in the photo. I had never before had to filter the reports of the kids' daily activities for fear of hurting the "other parents'" feelings.
I had grown up in a nuclear family, although I never really knew that's what we were called. However, when I was growing up, divorce was rare, and we called nuclear families, normal. All my life, my family had been normal. So imagine my horror when my own family became not-normal. I had joined the ranks of single parents. I felt like there was something wrong with me ... like I had failed. Although I was left as a single parent by the death of my spouse, I still didn't fit in anywhere.
I no longer "fit" with my couple friends. They were great supporters at first, but as time moved on, so did those friendships. And as a mid-30-year-old-widow, I had a tough time considering myself "single" even though that is exactly what I was. Single. Again.
My two sons were early elementary school at the time their dad died, and I have a very vivid memory of an "episode" involving a magnifying glass and grass fire in an easement not far from our house. My son and two other boys were "looking at ants" and somehow started the grass on fire. I remember standing at the curb with the two other dads. I felt completely out of place. I got angry. Where was MY boys' dad? Why had he left me here to deal with all this "dad" stuff? I could almost hear the crowd whispering ... "Oh, yes. That's the SINGLE mom. No wonder ..."
I wondered then how I would ever be able to make it. I heard a comment from a dad at the baseball field one evening saying my son "threw like a girl." Well, of course he did, because the person who taught him to throw was, in fact, A GIRL ... ME! I hated "Dad's 'n Donuts" at school because it was just another reminder that there was something wrong with my family. While I could go and eat donuts with the best of them, I felt like the girl in a boy's locker room. I was completely out of place. And while my boys always seemed to appreciate my efforts, it just wasn't the same.
I remember thinking, "I just want to be normal again."
So, I got remarried. Like that would make me and my boys normal again. But instead, it just introduced a whole new vocabulary. Stepparents. Stepsisters. Stepbrothers. Blended family. Second marriage. Yours and mine. What I thought would make me feel normal again, just complicated life and made me feel less normal than ever. With each passing day, season of life, and event, I felt less and less normal.
So, now that I've stated the obvious and you are all shaking your head because you know exactly what I'm talking about, I can hear you thinking, Okay this is great. But what do we do about it? How do we find normal?
Well, this is a good news, bad news scenario. The bad news is, you will never find normal as you once knew it. But, the good news is, if you choose, you can create a new normal. No matter how hard you try, your blending family will never be nuclear. You will never again know normal as you once did. But now you have an opportunity to build new relationships, start new traditions and experience the freedom to be creative in how your new family defines normal.
If you are divorced, I can only assume you and your children struggle with the "Disneyland Parent." That part-time parent who is all about fun, shopping and weekend activities, leaves you as the one who has to keep the laundry done, chart the chores and make sure homework is finished. But that doesn't mean you can't have fun with your kids as well. You just get to have fun with more than just your own kids. Choose an activity this week that everyone will enjoy. And it doesn't have to cost a lot of money. What we discovered with our kids, especially when they were younger, is that what they wanted most from us was our time and attention. A picnic and kite-flying adventure at the park gave everyone a chance to relax and have fun. However, we learned that giving each of the kids a couple of bucks and letting them pick out their very own kite was a stroke of genius.
Think of ways you can have some fun. Maybe on the Saturday when everyone's at home, let the kids have ice cream for breakfast. I promise it won't cause too much permanent damage to their health, but the payoff in the health of your blending family is priceless.
Sometimes, though, its more about perspective. How do you choose to see your family? How can you redefine what normal looks like for you? What if you looked at your blending family as a blessing from the Lord and a source of happiness for you and your children instead of a reminder that you are somehow broken?
You make me so happy, God. I saw your work and I shouted for joy. How magnificent your work, God! Psalm 92:4 (The Message)
So, what about you? Where are you in your journey in finding normal?
About the author:
Teri is passionate about teaching, writing, and ministering to fellow sojourners. She spends her days working in ministry and her evenings and weekends being wife and mom.