You may not have realized it, but September 16 is officially National Stepfamily Day -- and yes, you should celebrate! (Come on, if anyone deserves a special holiday, it's those of you who deal with co-parenting quibbles, an unfathomable number of extracurricular activities and come December, the scheduling hell that is Two Christmases.)
We here at HuffPost Divorce decided celebrate by giving props to all the stepparents and stepkids we've featured in our Blended Family Friday series. You people really know what you're doing.
Below, seven invaluable things our featured families have taught us about divorce, remarriage and thriving as a blended family.
1. Divorce isn't the end of the world.
There's no way around it: Your kids are undoubtedly going to be affected by the divorce. But as our reader Janice Bissell suggested, it's not necessarily in the kids' best interest for you to stay in a bad marriage, either. Bissell believes her child would have been worse off if she hadn't ended her first marriage.
"Divorce happens," she said. "My daughter and my husband's kids have seen why some relationships just don't work -- now they see the opposite with our new marriage."
The way Bissell sees it, she and her husband Joe are getting a second chance to model what love should look like. "Working hard at and being happy in our relationship really is the best thing we can do for our kids," she told us.
2. You can't hurry love.
Stepmom Christine Nestrick said she was a ball of nerves the first time she met her future stepdaughter. Why? Because she realized her relationship with the tween's father ultimately hinged on the two of them hitting it off.
After the introduction, the trio took things as slow as possible -- a mini-golf session here, a family get-together there. They also realized that accepting each other as family was going to take time.
"Was everything effortless? No. Did it feel natural, like a family? Of course not," Nestrick said. "But we kept at it. We continued to spend time together, even when it felt a little awkward because we knew that was OK. The makings of a blended family does not happen overnight. It can't be forced."
(Photo by Pictures by Shalyn)
3. Structure is everything.
Keeping track of two sets of kids, assorted extracurricular activities and pick-ups and drop-offs with ex-spouses is enough to drive anyone crazy. It's essential that you find a way to stay on top of everything, whether you settle on a shared Google Calendar or a co-parenting app like Our Family Wizard. For our reader Rachel Pross, a simple white board did the trick.
"Within about six months of our wedding, we had an industrial-sized dry erase white board hanging in the kitchen called 'Command Central,' she told us. "The kids had color-coded magnets, chore charts, and a big calendar written out. We were really regimented parents, but that structure actually gave the kids comfort and a routine they could depend on. It kept us all on the same page."
4. There is no such thing as perfect.
There is no "perfect" family -- blended, nuclear or otherwise. The sooner you and your partner accept that, the sooner you can get on with your lives and find your own brand of happiness, blended family mom Kellee Mulkerin-Ford said.
"Stop thinking that things are going to be perfect," she said. "It's not going to happen. The kids will not get along all the time, the house will be not always be quiet, you will not always hear 'please' and 'thank you.' It isn't realistic. What is realistic is taking stock of how incredibly lucky you are to have more children to love and to guide. Think of how lucky those kids are to have you to protect them, to cry with them, or to just bump into on the way to the pantry."
(Photo by Mulkerin-Ford)
5. The ex stays in the picture.
You may bristle at the idea of integrating your ex into your stepfamily, but the sooner you figure out a way to peacefully co-parent with him or her, the happier everyone will be, said Matt Robertson.
"Find a way to let go of the things that ended your previous marriage," the blended family dad of five told us. "I believe we blended so easily and so quickly because of the relationships we have with the other parents. My ex-wife has had my stepdaughter over to her house to teach her how to bake and my children frequently give my wife’s ex-husband a hug as he is leaving after dropping his children off."
That may sound to good true to be true -- and even Robertson admitted his family still has their "moments of frustration" -- but aiming for a civil relationship with the other parents is well worth the effort.
"It's really what's best for the children," Robertson said.
6. Family means different things to different people.
If there's one thing that our featured families have taught us, it's that there is no one-size-fits-all definition of family. Kara Sarvey's family is a perfect example of that. Shortly after her dad came out as gay and her parents divorced, her family expanded to include her father's new partner Rich and Rich's three kids.
"My dad began dating Rich about a year after my parent’s divorce. It was impossible to not like Rich, even my mom said so! He’s very supportive of me and my brothers and he balances out my dad nicely," she told us.
Sarvey's mom Liz led the charge in welcoming Rich into the family. "I think my mom’s attitude toward the situation really set the tone for how my brothers and I responded. She certainly had her moments, don’t get me wrong, but I very rarely saw her upset or angry, and neither of them talk badly about the other," Sarvey said. "I really am very happy with how things are.
(Photo courtesy of Kara Sarvey)
7. When you have a bad day, laugh it off and start again tomorrow.
Rule #1 of blended family life: If you're ever going to make it as a new family, it's essential that both parents and kids keep their sense of humor in good working order.
"There will be times when you can choose to laugh or cry -- and laughing is way more fun," blended family mom Karen Coover told us early on in the series. "At first it’s hard, because you take everything so personally, but after the first year or so, you start to really look at other people’s actions as more of a reflection on them than a reflection on you. You let go, you become a team with your spouse and kids, and then you can laugh together."
If you'd like your own family to be featured on Blended Family Friday, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We're looking forward to hearing your story!