blend·ed fam·i·ly; noun; North American; (plural noun: blended families)

  1. a family consisting of a couple and their children from this and all previous relationships.”

Type it into your search engine, and this definition – or something a lot like it – is what you are likely to see.

I have one.  A “Blended Family” I mean. But, I dislike the term “blended family”.  Don’t know where it comes from, but it just sounds… too, well… it just sounds too much like a blender in the kitchen!  

Ice cream smoothies or milk-shakes can be really good, but when families are ‘blended’, do you really want their identities to be chopped up like food thrown into a blender? Those sharp knives that do the blending turn way too fast. Tearing and shredding, whether apples or carrots, the blender doesn’t care, the ingredients can be destroyed by the blending process.

Blending a family is delicate and the way you choose to blend your family is vital.

So in graduate school, we agreed that the “mixed, tossed or un-tossed salad” is a more appropriate metaphor for the way cultures change and grow alongside each other when different people groups either mix or just live alongside each other. Sometimes the flavor of one affects the flavor of another, sometimes it’s more, sometimes less. The goal is for the individual ingredients to blend in an enhancing way without destroying their individuality.   

Likewise with salad (“blended”) families. When we talk about blended families, we talk about old family groups splitting up and coming together in new groups of different people. These group members can affect each other to varying degrees, sometimes substantially, sometimes only superficially.  One way that I can get to know each member of my family is to appreciate what they bring, their particular way of adding to the group, making it an even more delicious salad.

Sometimes, for example, it doesn’t work that I show my love to my step kids in the same way that I show my love to my biological kids.  Due to the different family cultures that each experienced in their formative years, they may or may not receive what I have to offer as love or as respect.  In their own world of growing up, they may have learned that the particular way that I care for them has led to betrayal or has been hurtful in other ways. It may have nothing to do with my parenting skills or the time I devote to them or the purity of my intentions.  They may just not be able to feel loved by my particular expressions of love.

I get it.  In my own growing-up years, in my two marriages and now as a counselor I’ve experienced both sides of this equation.  

Consider this scenario.  Growing up in their family of origin, watching their own parents’ fight, separate and finally divorce, a son may later become a step-son.  Now this step-son and their new step-Dad can to be getting along great until suddenly on their birthday they are shocked when they open a card and see that step-Dad has signed it “Dad”.  

Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait just a minute! Somebody hit the “OFF” switch on that blender!  The child may feel shocked and/ or suddenly torn-up by feelings of hurt or betrayal. Other feelings such as confusion, anger and sadness may surface over the turbulence below.  

This internal reaction is not pretty.  In the brokenness, muck and mire of un-blendedness inside of them, the step-son may feel that while they and their biological Dad had their problems, bio Dad has a unique place in their heart. Step-Dad knew it, but in his mind he was trying to love step-son as if he was his own, hoping this might help step-son put behind him the hurts from the past. Best of intentions, right?  But unfortunately, step-son doesn’t see it this way. Deep down, their bio-Dad is their ONLY Dad! They don’t want anyone to threaten or to replace their biological Dad, so they don’t receive step-Dad’s birthday card as love. Instead, they receive it as phony or pushy, and they may feel angry, hurt and disrespected. The pain of losing their biological Father may be triggered as well.  

In ‘blended’ families, such scenarios are common. As parents and as children, we tend to behave as people do in any human relationship. We tend to react to others based on seeing them through the filter of our own past experiences.  

So for me in my various roles as a counselor, father and step-Dad I want to continue to learn to care for people effectively, and to help others to do the same.  Personally as a father and a stepdad, I want to continue to learn how to give love according to the individual needs of ALL my kids. So in blended families, take the time to get to know what makes others feel loved and then show it in that way.