Blended Families — 23 October 2003
We are family

Parents need to set the tone for family unity, love and respect.

The composition of modern American families is so complex, we often find
it difficult to define it or even provide names for all its members.
What we need is a simpler, better way of naming all the individuals in
the family.

“Are you his brother, half brother, stepbrother, foster brother, adopted
brother, or brother in law?” ” No, I am his fraternity brother.”

Families are expanded through remarriage. A common description of family
history may be given as follows: “My parents divorced when I was seven.
I have an older sister and a younger brother. My mother remarried a man
who had two girls, so I have two stepsisters. My Mother and stepfather
had twin boys, who are my half brothers. My father also remarried. His
wife had two children from her first marriage, a boy and a girl, so I
have two more stepsiblings. My father and his new wife had three more
children, my two half brothers and sister.” It is very hard to keep
track of all the relationships without a chart.

Other families are also created through foster care and adoption. We
have children in a two-father household, two-mother household, or a
single father or single mother homes. We have families with natural
children and foster care children and adopted children. Adoption has
expanded our racial and cultural composition of families. Adoptive
parents sometimes hear unaware people say: “who are her real parents?”
(Referring to the biological parents).

Science has also contributed to the complexity of family units. We have
parents whose child was conceived with the father’s sperm and a donor
egg, or a mother’s egg and a donor sperm, or a non-biologically related
child carried by the mother, or by a surrogate mother. In vitro
fertilization may also create multiple birth of twins, triplets or more
children born to parents who were aided in conception.

Parents who use a form of scientifically supported conception talk about
when to inform their children of the circumstances of their creation. If
this is really so important, what do we call children who were conceived
in a petri dish? We do not yet have the terminology  but it is sure to
come.

But, do we really need a labeling system for each and every combination
of conception? Do we need to specify how someone came to be our child? I
don’t think so. It is much more important for a child’s development to
feel a sense of belonging, connection and security within the family
than to know early on in life the details of his biological origins.

Except for medical reasons, I believe that the terms: step, half,
foster, adopted, in vitro only create an artificial barrier in
relationships. I would like to recommend that we change our language to
become more accepting and inclusive.

Let us think of family designation by generations.
The adult generation needs to be the parents. Children need to be son,
or daughter. The goal in blended families is to create a new, loving,
cohesive, expanded family, where everyone is included and treated
equally well.

Couples who use the terms “my children” and “your children”, create
division, inequality, competition and favoritism – emotional components
opposed to blending. Once the couple married- all the children,
regardless of their origins, must become “our ” children. The adults,
are not “Mom” and “Dad” to replace the original people of these titles,
but “the Parents”.

Once the parents truly embrace the new unit, the children become
siblings, “the Kids”, brothers and sisters. They no longer need to
resort to the prefixes of stepsister, half sister, etc. Children are not
step-anything, which means once removed, or half-something which isn’t
whole, or adopted-which means not of origin, or foster-which means cared
for but not permanently belonging. All children need to be wholly
accepted, fully a part of the new family and equally treated.

This tone for family wholeness must come from the parents. The couple
has to become very clear about their openness to parenting all the
children without distinction. Parents, who are not ready to undertake
this difficult and challenging role, should defer the blending of their
families until they can do so, or the children are grown. It is very
irresponsible for adults to undertake such a major task as raising
children without doing it with fairness, decency and open _heartedness. So let the adults be the parents, who set the tone for the new blended
family with maturity of actions and language. Let the children learn
inclusiveness of brotherhood and sisterhood regardless of DNA.

Acceptance, tolerance, inclusiveness, respect and love of others are
first experienced at home. Let us model these qualities to all our children. In Summary,

  • Families are created in various ways, all of which must afford the
    best environment for children.
  • The quality of your family is not based on history or biology _but on
    love.
  • You can blend your families when you are fully ready to treat all of
    the children equally well.
  • Our language about family connection must be inclusive and simple.
  • Children must be encouraged to accept each other as siblings in a new
    family.
  • Parents need to model acceptance, respect and love for all their
    children, who can then share it with each other in their healthy family.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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