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Dr. Kate Roberts Headshot

Blended Families Make for a Spicy and Happy Meal

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We're a blended family, although our parenting styles don't always mix well. Dinner time can be an occasion where we're more like oil and water than peanut butter and jelly. "Sit up, chew with your mouth closed and use that napkin!" my husband exclaims with a look of disgust splattered over his face. While together we parent my two boys from my previous marriage, my husband is also a parent to two grown, well-mannered, napkin-savvy girls.

In contrast to his proper daughters, my pre-tween boys think that their shirt sleeves and tails work better than napkins; after all, they are more accessible right? Whereas in the past, the boys reacted to my husband's corrections with reproach, their little bodies reflexively slouching downward, today, they are resilient, maintaining an upright stance while they offer only a slight hint of recognition as if listening to a predictable skip in a record that's been overplayed.

I, however, feel the sting of my husband's bite as freshly today as I did five years ago when we first became one family. "Continue with your story honey," I placate, my voice flat, attempting to cover up the shadow cast at the dinner table. Although I seem to be the only one to notice, our son -- still jabbering on -- blurts out, "Mom, let me finish!" in between food chews and sleeve wipes. Now I am the interrupter, having reacted to my husband's harshness, and even he seems to have forgotten about his outburst and the mess in front of him as he is fully engaged in our son's story.

My husband and I often have different expectations of our sons. I yearn for our family dinners to be happy meals; and I don't mean from McDonald's. I am willing to compromise on decorum in exchange for peace and harmony. My husband prefers a cleaner, smoother and less rough version, although he's turning a blind eye to some of the spills and spits that come with raising two boys.

I also have become more accepting of his girls' fashionably late arrivals and female drama. Sometimes when I feel especially tit for tat, I think about going back to the days of kindergarten where taking turns being the leader solved all problems. I picture pointing my ruler at him and declaring, "Okay, today I'll be the boss while you be quiet. You'll get your turn tomorrow."

After five years together, we're a blended family in process. Sometimes we gel and sometimes we curdle. I've come to accept that raising kids together isn't about being perfectly aligned every time. We can have happy meals even when the boys are being messy slobs and the girls show up late, or in tears or not at all.

I tell my clients that being part of a parenting team requires acquiescing, picking and choosing battles and sometimes it helps to view your partner as just another child to work around. We've tried the "taking turns" model and I've decided that really only works when you're in kindergarten. My conclusion today is that although we're a blended family, in many ways we're like most other families. We may have more spice at our meals, but I'd take flavorful over bland any day, as long as I don't have to eat at McDonald's to have a happy meal.