They say it takes 3 to 5 years for a step/blended family to really come together before they feel like a “real” family. I am careful when I say “real” family – because, I know the argument, “What is a real family anyways”? But by “real”, I mean a feeling of belonging, identity, support and love of each other above others around you. There’s a real connection there. You know what I mean.
I remember reading this “3 to 5 years” stat and thinking , “Are you kidding me?” (yup – I actually thought that – my kids make fun of me for using this phrase a lot. Whenever they imitate me, it usually starts with “Are you kidding me”?) At any rate, 3 to 5 years seemed like a very long time, and I was sure that we could do it faster. We were committed to the process.
Well, Rob and I have been married for 3.5 years and yup – they were right. It takes 3 to 5 years.
Not to say that we have not felt like a family and functioned like a family throughout these years – because I feel we have.
But it struck me that I’m noticing some subtle differences now.
I was shopping for some of my favorite parenting books to give to a friend for a shower gift. She has just been blessed with adopting two sweet little kids, and I thought giving her some of the parenting books that made a big impression on me (or ones I just found worthwhile reading) would be a nice gift.
One of the books, called “Connected Parenting” by Jennifer Kolari is really really good, and although has nothing to do with step parenting per se, it helped me have some clarity about step parenting (and is an amazing read for all parents in general).
Kolari talks about connecting with your children as being of utmost importance. Only after establishing (or at times – re-establishing) a connection, can you then introduce limits (which they desperately need and want to thrive), or reason with your children or calm them down.
She talked about how at times you need to revert back to what she calls “Baby Play” with your kids to re-establsih connections or to strengthen bonds in general. This is where you revisit what life was like with them when they were younger; remind them of tender moments; tell them stories about their baby/toddler life; cuddle them like you used to. It helps the brain make that connection to that very special bonding time and makes everyone feel good all around.
I can totally see how that works. I kept a “baby journal” for my boys when they were very little and they love reading from it, or have me tell stories about when they were little. It does give us that connected lovey dovey feeling.
Similarly when you are having a hard time with your spouse – revisiting your intial attraction, courting, “how we met stories” brings you right back to that moment and re-establishes that bond and connection.
But with skids, you can’t do this, because you don’t have those memories to revert to. With your biological kids and your spouse, you have that foundation that everything else was built on. You can go back to that time, because that time existed and was real.
With skids, that time didn’t exist. I can’t pull Gabe into my arms and say “Oh Sweetie, remember how you used to like it when I tickled you this way” or remind Zandra of a certain doll that she loves. I can however remind Sam of the first time I babysat him where I found him stripped down naked on a chair in the living room eating a bag of cookies watching TV! He does love that story – and it certainly is a bonding moment to revert to – but it is not the same as reminding them of things that they may not actually even have memories of, but the connection is still in their brain (or in my brain).
And I will never have those memories – or that foundation to build on. Which makes the Skid/Smom relationship a challenging and extremely unique one.
So I guess that is one of the main reasons it takes 3-5 years to establish a real bonded family. You certainly need effort, and commitment, and desire, and hard work, and openness and a whole lot of love, patience and humility.
But most importantly, you need plain old time. You need the time to try to build memories and share experiences, where in the future (or the present) you can re-visit those moments to help build or re-establish your bond. Maybe I will never be able to do “Baby Play”, but I will be able to do “Child Play” as long as I am engaging in the present actively now.
You have to start much later at building that foundation – and admittedly it is much harder when the kids are older. Your roles are also more confusing as everyone is trying to figure out how they fit in. You also don’t have that non verbal, physical intimacy that you have with babies and young children. So it is much harder.
The only thing you can rely on is time: time to create routine, time to create traditions, time to build memories of funny meals, vacations, day to day moments. Time to figure out the little quirks and funnies you all have, and time to learn to appreciate everyone’s individuality and uniqueness. You can’t rush those things. You can’t establish a history in year. It takes years to build up that reserve of memories that you can draw on that bring you closer down the road.
So 3 to 5 years it is.
And now, 3.5 years later. I’m starting to see it and feel it, and hear it. “Remember when…” comes up more now with my skids, in addition to my boys. We can sit and laugh at our inside jokes, reminisce about things people did in the past, look at pictures and ooh and ahh about how everyone has grown (it’s amazing how quickly kids change in 4 years!).
We are becoming more connected in many more ways, which solidifies our bond, and that makes us feel more like a “real family”.