Blending families is hard -- but rewarding

News-DemocratJune 17, 2013 

In a perfect world, blending families would go off without a hitch: No hard feelings, no misplaced jealousy, no frustration.

Everyone would magically get along perfectly and life would be wonderful.

But life isn't all rainbows and unicorns. Personalities sometimes clash, feelings get hurt and misunderstandings happen, even in the most well-adjusted families.

Mixing families can be tough business: new rules, new people, new circumstances. A family does something one way at Mom's house, but when the weekend rolls around and it's time to visit Dad's house, the rules and expectations are different. We certainly have different rules and expectations at our house than my stepdaughter has at her mom's house. She stays with us every other weekend. The first couple of months were a learning experience.

I expect a lot out of my daughter Boogie, I expect her to take responsibility for herself and I don't hover around her dictating her every move and decision. In that respect, my stepdaughter and my daughter are vastly different, so that was an adjustment for me. But we've worked through it rather well.

My stepdaughter is learning that I don't cater to kids, period. If you are old enough to walk and talk, you are old enough to load your own dirty dishes into the dishwasher, pick up your clothes off the floor, get your own snack, and clean up any messes you make. Sure, sometimes it would be easier for me to just do it because cleaning up messes often equals bigger messes, sorting laundry into loads would take much less time if I didn't have to answer "Colors or whites?" for every single clothing item that had both a color and white in it, and room cleaning would be done perfectly every time. But how does a kid learn if parents don't encourage it and require it? I know I certainly don't want to have a couple of adults running around who have no clue how to do basic housekeeping or take responsibility for themselves.

I think my stepdaughter thought I was picking on her and just being mean when I required she clear her dishes off the table after a meal, load them into the dishwasher and wipe up her mess. Everyone else in the house does it. So can she, I explained. Now, it's automatic and the only question she asks is, "Is the dishwasher clean or dirty?"

The first couple of months between the girls was great. They played together, hung out together, and got along really well, which made us happy.

Then, Boogie started finding the younger girl irritating. She didn't want her following her around and copying her. She no longer wanted a little shadow hanging on her every word. She started locking herself in her room and making rude, snotty comments to her stepsister.

Uh-oh. Dissension in the ranks.

Never a good thing. The girls are five years apart, so I do understand that having someone that much younger following you around and getting in the way can be irritating.

Boogie and I had a chat about families and tolerance and treating people the way we want to be treated. I explained that her stepsister looked up to her and admired her and that's why she was following her around and copying her. If Boogie got too annoyed, she could go spend some time alone in her room, but there would be no more rude words and no more hurtful comments.

It took a while, but things are better. Much better.

They play together again. Boogie invites her stepsister to join in and actually includes her in things even when she has friends over for the weekend. She makes sure she spends time doing something exclusively with her stepsister every single visit. I've even busted Boogie playing dolls, something of which she is not a big fan. Bit she knows her stepsister could play dolls all day long. Watching the two of them together warms my heart.

I knew her efforts had been duly noted when her stepsister came to me and said: "I really like it when Boogie plays with me. She's been really nice and happy."

Success! For now. I'm sure there will be quite a few more growing pains as we continue along.

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