Sarah Kinbar remembers the joy, and the very real risk, of blending her boyfriend’s children with her own.
Every family faces challenges and enjoys rewards on almost a daily basis. Blended families like ours have a unique set of elements that bring richness and complexity to the family dynamic–and it would be fair to say that the highs are higher and the lows are lower. I don’t know yet if this bi-polar experience is true for the long-term, but that’s what we’ve experienced over three years.
In the early months of our dating, I fell in deeply love with Todd. Even as I grew more confident that we could build a life together, I worried what would happen when we mixed our children. I knew that if the children didn’t blend well, we would not continue seeing each other. The catch-22 was that I didn’t want the kids (my two and his two) to get to know each other until I knew for sure that this was a serious, long-term relationship. I couldn’t have it both ways. There was risk involved no matter what, and there still is.
We had been dating for about 5 or 6 months when we had our first blended outing. It was a trip to Cocoa Beach–something we could all get behind: what kid doesn’t love the beach? (The picture above is of a more recent beach trip, which has become one of our favorite things to do together.) My oldest, Xander, was 6, and his oldest, Ella, was 5. After only seconds together under the hot Florida sun, they got along remarkably well. Ella is an incredibly strong, energetic girl who has no trouble keeping up with the boys. Xander liked that about her, and they played blissfully for hours, running in the waves and digging in the sand. Our little ones (my Halle was not yet 1 and his Cali had just turned 1) were too young to interact much, but they sat in our laps, vaguely aware of each other.
The drive out to the beach had been pretty interesting. We were all quiet and wide-eyed, save for Xander, who was completely ticked off that this whole thing was even happening, and obnoxiously verbose about it during the drive. He did not want to get in Todd’s truck (the extended cab pick-up was the only vehicle we had access to that could fit all six of us, which is still the case). He also did not want to sit near Todd (his only option, as the front center seat was airbag-free and the back seat was full of girls in car seats). He resolved to play with no one and would not have fun, no matter what. I had told Xander that Todd was a good friend of mine, and that we were spending the day with his kids, but Xander could sense something deeper amiss. He wasn’t buying the light, low-key approach Todd and I were trying to create.
To our relief, we got to the beach and Xander forgot everything he had said and decided to play ferociously.
The drive home from Cocoa was telling, for me, of Todd’s connectedness as a parent. Halle, sleeping in her car seat, let go of a whopping poop, and we couldn’t wait another 45 minutes to get home and change her. It just stank horribly. Todd pulled over to a rest stop, and I changed her. I was annoyingly prepared in those days. I had my black leather diaper bag with a fold-out changing pad, scented disposable baggies to mask the odor of fresh poop, and, of course, “sensitive skin” wipes. As I did my dirty work, I plopped the bagged poopie diaper on the ground beside my feet and put a clean Huggie on Halle’s bootie. Todd swooped in to remove the toxic waste and threw it in a trash bin.
I don’t think I realized how important our synching as parents was to me, or what it would look like, until that moment. I had been so focused on how the kids would do together. It was a small thing, but Todd just knew what to do even when I didn’t ask for help. It pushed me forward into a fantasy future that is not completely unlike our lives as blended parents today.
Counting the day a success, we decided not to press our luck and waited a few months before blending again. I still had sleepless nights when I prayed at length for smooth blending, but I felt hopeful now, having seen a fledgling spark of admiration between Xander and Ella.
Sarah Kinbar is a freelance writer/editor and floral designer currently living in New York. She and her husband run the blog Big Blended Family, dedicated to blended families.