To be honest, it wasn’t overnight, nor was it unexpected. But it turns our worlds upside down for a minute every summer, nonetheless. No, I’m not talking about having a third baby.
I’m a stepmom.
My husband and I have a blended family.
A his, hers, and ours sort of deal. A lot like the Brady Bunch—only half as many kids, one who is shared, and two who have other homes. It feels as crazy to me as having six kids might though. Only sometimes crazier, I imagine, because the six Brady Bunch kids didn’t have visitation schedules or two households with a set of parents in each one.
Visits punctuate life during the school year: my stepson comes one weekend, and my daughter goes the next. While the staccato nature of our family schedule is rhythmic and predictable, it is also draining.
We live by the calendar of who is where when, and we have to plan months in advance.
And sometimes we just want to say “no” to anything extra, whether that’s after-school activities or invitations from friends because we are exhausted from the constant driving back and forth and the shifting of family dynamics. There’s not much time to get in a groove. And as soon as we think we’ve got it down, someone gets sick, or someone needs to switch a weekend, or someone has a birthday party invitation on their away weekend, or, or, or…
But summers are quite the departure from that. My stepson joins us for the summer, and then he and my daughter leave to visit their other parents every other weekend. Essentially the opposite of the school year. We go from a family of four with a biweekly one or five, to a family of five with a biweekly one. If you can keep up with that, you win a prize.
For the largest part of the year, my kids only know our family together on short biweekly weekend visits.
But during this part of the year, summer, they have to adjust to being together sunup to sundown the majority of the time, and to rules and inner workings of a different “home base”. They have more time to fight their battles, and more time to figure out their common interests. More time for building bonds, and more opportunities for sibling rivalry.
We manage the travel and scheduling aspects of our set up really well. I often joke with my husband that we should open a logistics company because we are incredibly good at this.
It’s the emotional logistics that get tricky.
They’re excited for some visits, and not for other visits. There’s seamless adjustment, and there’s chaotic semi-adjustment. They’re so happy to be together, and then they’re unsure of how to be together all at the same time. I’m referring to the kids. And the parents.
It’s hard to know as a parent, and as a stepparent, if you’re doing it right.
I’d like to say those roles are one and the same. But the truth is that there are different expectations and responsibilities for each one, and despite the fact that I may want to show up as the same person for each job, it just isn’t that way.
What does my stepchild need to feel good in this situation? What do my biological children need to feel good? What do my husband and I need, separately and together, to feel good? People say, “Oh, that’s just siblings for you”, but is it? Are they squabbling because they’re siblings, or is it because they’re confused and on uneven footing in their own house? Is everyone settling in well? Is everyone comfortable enough?
Yes, the emotional logistics are tough work—navigating and handling everyone’s feelings, including my own. And it sometimes feels like even harder work to keep my sanity and patience, when I’m to-the-bone-mom-tired and I just don’t wanna anymore.
But I show up anyway, whether as Mom or Stepmom.
And I work tirelessly to support and balance my family of three four five as we transition into summer, and into knowing each other together for more than just a couple of weekends a month. It’s challenging. But it’s also super heartwarming to feel like all the pieces of my family are in one place at the same time.
I suppose it’s our modern-day version of the Brady Bunch. Except, sadly, without Alice.
Sara Fields is a mountain girl at heart, having grown up in a small town in Southwestern Virginia. She moved to Richmond in 2008 and now calls it home with her blended family of five.
She has an extensive career in the food industry, and she owns a private nutrition practice. She is passionate about raising healthy kids and teaches fertility and prenatal nutrition classes locally to help other parents do the same.
She is an aspiring minimalist, who believes that less is often more–except when it comes to houseplants. When she’s not working or hanging out with her kiddos, you can find her cooking with her husband, doting over her kitty cat, doing yoga and step aerobics, or watching live music.