Blended Family Friday: Meet Wendy And Arlando's Family

04/26/2013 06:35 pm ET
Wendy Gudalewicz

As part of our Blended Family Friday series, each week we're spotlighting a different stepfamily to learn how they successfully blended their two families together. Our hope is that by telling their stories, we'll bring you closer to blended family bliss in your own life!

Today, we'd like you to meet Wendy and Arlando's family. We first found out about the couple when their daughter, Alia, emailed us suggesting we spotlight her "crazy blended family" of seven! Scroll down to learn how they've made it work for the past 16 years.

Hi, Wendy! Please introduce us to your family. What was it like for the kids, growing up in a blended family?
Arlando and I have been together since 1997 and moved in together in 1998. Growing up, our kids Kenan, Jamie and Gary lived together full-time and Landon and Alia lived with us part-time. My husband and I did not marry until January of 2006. In 1998, the kids ranged in age from seven to 16! All the kids used to play together. Hide and seek, WWF and video games helped to create a bond for the kids. Arlando and I didn't force them to interact, but we did request that we all ate dinner together. Dinners were, and still are, a joyful experience for all of us.

Looking back on all your years together, what would you say is the best thing about being part of a blended family?
Our children are all grown and out on their own, but when we get together there is no greater feeling. Sitting around a table and watching our adult children interact with each other is the best part of having a blended family. They look out for each other; in fact, sometimes we joke that they know more about each other than we do.

Ours is not only blended, but inter-racially blended, too. It is fun watching people trying to figure out the relationships when we are all together. They introduce each other as brothers and sisters, and we refer to them as our sons and daughters. The looks are priceless as people stare back and forth as if there is a new biology they never learned.

I think knowing and believing that we have more things in common than we have differences reinforces the notion that there is more good in the world than there is bad. Our children hold each other, and us, accountable for the values we tried to teach. We look forward to the times we are together because of the natural way our children engage with each other. They are funny, witty, compassionate and very accepting. My husband and I are educators, so we've been involved in the lives of thousands of young people. We often say that even if these were not our children, they are people who we would love to have in our lives because of who they are. That's evidenced by the number of people who find their way to our home when the children are home!

What are some of the biggest challenges of blended family life?
One challenge of blended family life is attempting to merge two sets of values, expectations and reactions to behaviors into one. I think our family shares a fairly similar set of values, but I think the expectations we had for our children prior to blending our families were slightly different. Attempting to ensure that all five children are treated in an equitable way is the most difficult part of blended family life.

When to discipline your biological children and how to discipline your non-biological children is a huge issue. Some times you have to let things go that you would normally speak up about, and other times, you just have to assert yourself and take the heat. You cannot over-discipline or force certain behaviors on the children, or each other. Gauging the common values you share and reinforcing them is critical to creating common expectations. This worked for us because our children respected each other and us. Even when it became difficult for us to impart certain values, the children would often talk things over, reinforce, explain and advocate on each other's behalf.

Being certain to honor their other parents is also important, even when it was difficult. Our children have different mothers and different fathers. What worked for us is that we did not try to take the place of their biological parents. Our adult differences were usually aired in private, recognizing that there was still a biological relationship important to them, even if it was not important to us.

What makes you proudest of your family?
The relationship our children have with each other. They truly love and care about each other as if they were bound by blood.

When parents divorce, young people will often use the anger as a reason to check out. That anger leads to poor grades in school, anti-social behaviors, and other destructive patterns. They do not want to listen to stepparents, and sometimes they can be rude and downright nasty. What we are most proud of is our children did not succumb to these behaviors. They were all active in high school, and have continued on with very positive post-secondary pursuits. We are proud to say we have four college graduates and one serving in the military.

What advice do you have for other blended families who feel like a peaceful family dynamic is out of reach?
The best advice we can give is to allow the relationships to form naturally. Forcing children to "like" each other is not going to work. However, as parents, we can set the conditions for the children to develop strong relationships with their new family members. Those conditions include supporting their endeavors, traveling and playing together, eating together and using language to reinforce the climate you want in your home.

Click through the slideshow the see photos of Wendy and Arlando's family.

If you'd like your own family to be featured on a Blended Family Friday, please email us at divorce@huffingtonpost.com. We're looking forward to hearing your story!

Meet Wendy And Arlando's Family

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