Blended Families

It is with incredible admiration that I share the words of my Uncle, Marcel Duclos,
Clinical Director at Northland Family Help Center.

By: Marcel Duclos

Some time ago, you (Nicole) invited me to add to your blog on the topic of Blended Families. Early on in my second marriage, after ten years as a single father who parented mostly from afar and only occasionally to a few of my children, my life under one roof consisted of my wife and I and two elementary school age children up until their graduation from high school. On two separate occasions, two young adult step-daughters did a stint with us in the hospitable farm house. Once, we had grandchildren filling the old house and the acreage with their spirit and sounds. When everyone went away on their individual journeys and left the eight rooms to the two dogs and the four cats to tend to mother/grandmother and pépère, this step-father felt the accumulated loss of his own children weighing heavier than before.  Thus is the undercurrent of blended families: loss and grief, unending grief and loss.

What might modulate the weight of what was neither anticipated nor imagined at the start of the first family life? Who marries and begins a family with the intent to create a blended family in the future! Nobody; or at least no one admits to it. However thoughtful, mature, responsible, caring  in and through the pain, the hurt, the sadness, the anger, the severance of what had been dreamed and shaped does burden all involved. For the couples who have it in them to recognize the time-limited nature of their relationship, and who have the intestinal fortitude and heart to consider the rightful needs of their children above their own unhealed childhood trauma, they have a greater chance that their future blending will not be too muddled or muddied. 
Perhaps less so but it will not without wounding, however unintended. And dangers lurk everywhere.
Some emerge out of the daily ground upon which all the new members of the yet unstructured family negotiate the most ordinary ups and downs together and alongside of each other. I still now, more than a decade later, taste the anguish that fouled my mouth when I failed to known how to reach out in the moment with the affection needed by the step-children.  Those were the moments when I acutely felt my failure also as a father, unable and unavailable to reach out to my children of the same age because of distance, separation and the throes of crushing irreconcilable differences. 

Similarly heartbreaking, and so commonly shared by many parents/partners in the blended family, is the conflicting ambivalence of loyalties. If I love one child with all my heart and show it, am I disloyal to the others? This is a challenging balance in any family. Do you love her/him more than me? No, I love you all with all that I am and with all my heart; but I do show it differently because you are unique. This question finds such an answer more believable in the first family. In the blended family, the seeds of doubt are blowing all around, and the proof is subject to the naturally changing winds of human relationships.

It is hard for me to tell whether I am still a stranger to my step-children because of my doing or theirs; or whether they are strangers to me because of their doings or mine. They are all adults now: all of the children who have graced my life. The dreamed relationships and the dreamed adult moments have not come to pass. The reality ranges from warm, pleasant, polite, hesitant, cautious, distancing, avoidant, rejecting, hostile.  More on the warm end of the continuum; but surely not enough! The fantasies of everyone returning to the homestead just because we all love it that way are now abandoned. What remains is the tangible company of some because more continuous contact has woven the ties between us.

The hard work of blending the ingredients to meet everyone’s human needs requires that all of the adults, chronologically at least, be chefs, or at least sous-chefs together in the kitchen of life.  I admire those who cook well and nourish each according to their healthy desires. I forgive myself my limitations and continue to hope, not unlike so many.


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