I always thought “blended family” sounded more like something off the Jamba Juice menu than a term you’d use to categorize relationships between parents and children, but nonetheless I am both the byproduct of a blended family and do a little family blending of my own.
I have three sisters—all from my parent’s first marriage—and two step-sisters who are the children of my Dad’s wife, both of whom have different fathers. I have a half-brother who is 20 years younger than me, and my step-father has two kids of his own, though I don’t really talk to them.
I am also the proud step-father of my own 10-year-old boy, whose biological father I sometimes watch football games with when my wife and our son are out of town together. It’s not always easy, but it works, and the benefits far, far outweigh any weirdness that ensues as a result of the close ties. (Arguing about politics with my son’s Dad’s mother on Facebook = FAIL.)
“If he’s trying to reach out to you, make sure you reciprocate those emotions, lest your son feel like you’re shutting him out.”
Sure the parents can take credit for greasing the wheels on this complex machine, making things easier along the way through compromise and clarity, but the real winner is my son.
He’s comfortable in the way he addresses both parents, especially when all three are in the same room together, and he doesn’t try and pull any House #1 vs. House #2 maneuvers that seek to undermine the rules and regulations we’ve all set. He’s a cool customer, and very confident in his decisions and his relationships with all three parents, all of whom are very different.
At the beginning of our relationship, when he was 3, I was very careful to not “encroach” upon his relationship with his Dad. I stayed away from activities I knew they regularly engaged in, and I never used terms like “son” when we spoke, nor did I insist or insinuate (as some parents do) that he call me “Dad.”
And on the occasions later in life when he would confide in me something that his Dad did that let him down or upset him, I was careful to not throw Dad under the bus, tempting, at times, as it was.
One afternoon, after a particularly difficult conversation with my son, I decided to give my Dad a call for some fatherly advice. He respected my decision to be cognizant of my son’s relationship to his dad, but he warned me about keeping my son’s emotional advances towards me at arms length.
“If he’s trying to reach out to you, make sure you reciprocate those emotions, lest your son feel like you’re shutting him out.” Basically, take what you’re given, even if it feels like the offering you’re getting is the result of your child not finding an outlet for those feelings with another parent.
Last week, his mother and I took him to his first ever concert, which definitely took some convincing on my end, as it wasn’t an activity his mom saw him engaging in for at least another few years. It was The Killers at the Hollywood Bowl, and we had a blast.
Our seat neighbors were cordial and respectful, and the herb in the air was minimal. The first thing he asked after the show was over: “Who are we going to see next?” It was a magical, kick-ass moment of family awesomeness, and I can’t wait to do it again.
My son also had his first little league game this weekend. After three years of soccer, he wanted to try something new, and though we had played catch a few times, it was his first organized game.
His dad and his uncle showed up, and he went 1-3 with a double and two RBIs. He pitched an inning, and recorded the only two put-outs of the game at second base. Righteous.
I was right there hanging off the fence and cheering him on, I warmed him up on the sidelines before he took the mound, and I made sure his jersey was tucked in before he took the field. These are all things his dad could have done, and if it were five years ago, I probably would have deferred to him.
But after days and days of pitching and fielding practice, a few hours at the batting cages, and an afternoon of shopping for socks, athletic shorts, and gear, I wasn’t about to drop out at the end.
I never had a ton of confidence as a kid, and growing up it was always a challenge to take the initiative. Maybe this comes easily to other step-parents, but it definitely wasn’t easy for me to jump in with both feet and take the reins on things I once felt should have been reserved for my son and his biological dad.
It’s one thing to be the best step-parent you can be. It’s another thing to have that investment come back to you tenfold and ultimately transcend that funky prefix. So yeah, we’ll definitely be hitting more shows, signing up for more sports, going to opening night showings of movies, and probably talking about first girlfriends. Because that’s what dads do.