Thursday, February 3, 2022

Best Friends

When we talk about blended families, we normally highlight all of the challenges, the trials, or all of the negative aspects that families should look out for. It's true, starting with all the X-man and baby mama issues, down to sibling and step-sibling rivalries, there are a lot of danger zones involved with bringing two families into harmonious union. As strange as it sounds, we very rarely talk about the beautiful aspects of blending families, the moments that restore our faith in the process or each other.

My family has gone through several permutations over the years. From the OG nuclear family, which was more nuclear than necessary at times, through single parenting, and then remarriage and more kids, it's been a constant effort to create traditions and maintain relationships. When I first married my wife, we sought counseling from the start on how to navigate that new situation and how to best care for the kids. We decided to hold off on having more children for a couple of years to create some bonding, but then somehow we got pregnant on our honeymoon, and in less than a year, welcomed a new baby girl and moved into a bigger house. 

We were so worried about the impact a new baby would have on the family dynamic we were trying to create, but it turned out to be such a blessing. Our nine-year-old LaRue was an unexpected addition to the family, but she was also the only person in the home who was blood related to everyone else. There were moments that could have been so much more tense, arguments that could have gone off the rails entirely, but her presence smoothed so many of those things out. All of us, both parents and children, found ourselves watching our language in front of her, keeping peace because nobody wanted her to see the worst in us. She really was the glue that kept us together.

Then later, our family went through even more changes. My daughter got pregnant at a young age, and that situation caused us all to have to make some readjustments. I don't think we ever really told anyone, but my wife and I even discussed the possibility of adopting the new baby, so that our daughter could have a more normal life and the baby would have the best possible care. The thing is, I've heard so many painful stories about complicated family structures where mother and child are raised as siblings, and so much shame and anger is just buried beneath the floorboards of the nursery, as if that doesn't affect how that new child develops. When my wife and I discussed adoption, we agreed that everything would be out in the open.

In the end, my daughter showed every desire to raise this baby herself, and we decided it would be best to help her do that, come alongside her and provide her with resources, a stable home, and whatever wisdom we could offer. She turned out to be a good mother. Sure, she's made mistakes, and not every decision she's made was wise. But it's hard to say that she did worse as a new parent at eighteen and unmarried than I did at twenty-four and married.

The same month our granddaughter was born, we found out we were pregnant again. Oops. Our family goes through one more change, two new babies in the house, daughter and granddaughter, auntie and niece, and two moms under the same roof for a while.

But a funny thing happened, the baby girls, Janelle and Selah, didn't come up as sisters. And we don't all live together any more. They know that they're auntie and niece, even if they have a hard time explaining it to everyone else. Not only that, but our baby daughter Selah tells us all the time that Janelle is her best friend. They Facetime each other at least once a week at bedtime, and create their own little clique when they're together, imitating each other and feeding off of their own energies. Selah misses the time when they used to sleep in the same room, chatting each other to sleep. She even has a favorite book called "How Do You Sleep?" by Louise Bonnet-Rampersaud that ends with two little children falling asleep together cuddling in the same bed. Every time we read it, which is a lot, Selah asks when Janelle is coming back, and can they sleep like that. They can't, in case you're wondering. She looks at that picture at the end of the book and says, "This me, this Janelle." It's a relationship that nobody would have predicted, or even asked for, two-year-old auntie and three-year-old niece, but it's beautiful.

Blended families are difficult, but they can be beautiful as well, just like any family situation. If you're worried about how the kids will get through, my advice is this:

1) Love them. Make sure they know they're loved by everyone in the family.

2) Get help early on. Whether that's a family counselor, a church group, or a seasoned blended family which is thriving, acknowledge that it will be hard, and get ahead of the problems. If you know you're headed into uncharted land, it would be stupid not to take a map or consult a guide.

3) Look for beauty. Even in the darkest moments, there can often be streaks of light that will get you through it if you look for them.

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