Recently I sent a call-out for anyone who was in a blended family to share their story. This story came from a local step-mom who describes her family, and the hurdles they have overcome in blending their families together.

If you would like to share your own blended family story, whether you are a parent or a child in the blended family and have a good or bad story to tell, email me at crissi@santarosamom.com.

When the Step-brothers don’t get along
by Christina

I’m a happily married mom in a family that has been “blended” since we moved in together in March 2007. My son Jake just turned 14 in April, so he was just about to turn 8 when we all moved in together. My (now) husband Neil’s son Sam turned 16 in November, so he was a solid 10 when we moved in together.

Neil and I met in June 2006 and we fell in love hard and fast! It was perfect timing for both of us, and we clicked in every way. We were able to establish a super-solid foundation for a relationship right from the beginning. Being in our 30s and 40s, we saw no reason to take our time. We were in love and knew we wanted to be together. And within a few months we bought a house together and moved in. Although it seems like this was happening super fast, for us it just felt right.

Even though things were great between Neil and I, and between our respective kids and us, there was one red-flag we ignored before buying our house – the relationship between Jake and Sam. Although we all enjoyed our time together and talked openly about buying a house prior to moving in together, and neither of the boys protested the idea, there was a problem. The boys didn’t really get along. Jake tried really hard at first to be friendly to Sam, and sometimes Sam would be nice too. But sometimes Sam would be annoyed by Jake, and even be mean to him. His hostility toward Jake ended up being pretty awful. Oddly, he expressed no hostility to me or to Neil – only toward Jake. If we reprimanded Sam, he responded. But he’d be back at it again soon after. After a while, I think Jake would purposely annoy Sam because there wasn’t much else he could do with a kid bigger than he was.

Despite this initial warning, we moved in together and hoped for the best. We supported both boys by dealing with Sam’s hostility and with Jake when he’d lash out in return. What followed was a couple of years of really hard times between the boys. Sam didn’t live with us full time because he lived with his mom half of the time. But Jake did live with us full time. I think Sam had a lot of jealousy toward Jake for having “his” dad all the time, when Sam couldn’t have him all the time.

Had Neil and I NOT had such a supportive, communicative relationship, the trouble between our two boys could have really hurt our relationship. We tried hard to have a united front with the boys and not show favoritism. We also shared special times with our own kids so they wouldn’t feel like they “lost” us to one another. I think both boys still felt lost to some extent, though. Jake had me all to himself for 6 years before I met Neil, and Sam had almost the same amount of time with Neil. There was no way they weren’t feeling deprived.

There were times when I felt super angry at Sam for being so mean to Jake, but I just kept reminding myself that he was just a kid, that he had reasons to feel resentful, and that Jake COULD be annoying sometimes. At the same time, Neil and I talked about what was going on constantly and strategized about how to be proactive, get the boys to be more respectful of one another, maybe even learn to like each other.

It’s funny on the initial blog Crissi wrote about stepfamilies, she mentioned how one teenage girl was upset because her stepmom put pictures up of her own kids in their house, but none of the teenage girl. When we moved into our house, one of the first things I did was put a few pictures up on the mantel. Of course they were my pictures – one of Jake, and a couple of Jake and me. That same night, Sam mentioned, clearly hurt, “you only put pictures up of Jake and you.” I realized he was right, so I went to Neil and said that he immediately needed to find some pictures of Sam to put up. And he only had one! Of Sam and Santa! Men are so lame! Luckily, we had just gone on a trip to England together and we had taken some great pictures. So, I got a couple of pictures of Neil & Sam framed within a day or two, and put them on the mantle, along with some other pictures of Neil’s family. I think that was really important and I’m SOOO grateful Sam said something because when I put those pictures up, I wasn’t even thinking I was being inconsiderate. I was just putting MY pictures up.

Things got progressively better, but didn’t change much for two years. It wasn’t until Neil’s daughter/Sam’s half-sister Hattie came to visit us from England for two weeks four summers ago that things changed drastically. She was 15 at the time and served as a buffer between the boys. They both adored her, and she would not tolerate Sam’s cruelty. Sam learned some good lessons from Hattie, and all the work Neil and I had done over the last two years finally sunk in. It still took a couple more years for Sam to COMPLETELY stop lashing out at Jake. But things significantly improved after Hattie’s visit, and even more over the next two summers.

For the past couple years, the boys have gotten along fine – probably better than some real brothers. They aren’t best friends, but they consider themselves “step-brothers” and they refer to each other that way (or even as brothers sometimes).

Along with Hattie’s visits, I think it made a difference when Neil and I got married (three years ago in December). Now there was a word for my relationship with Sam. I was no longer his dad’s girlfriend – I was his stepmom and he was my stepchild. And there was a word for Sam and Jake’s relationship when they legally became stepbrothers. The boys really took our marriage to heart, and it marked a time when they started to think of us as a “family” and began referring to us that way. I don’t exactly know why because nothing really changed – it just did. Hattie came out for the wedding and we had a fabulous three week family vacation/honeymoon in England right after…just a great way to start our married family life together, great memories & good feelings all around.

Getting through the period of Jake & Sam’s rocky relationship was just one factor in the blended family experience. There’s the relationship between my son and my husband, the evolving relationship between Sam and me, the differences in parenting styles of Neil and me with each other’s son, and how we’re growing as a family.

I think I would define our family as a strong, loving blended family at this point. I think we all like each other for the most part and we have fun when we’re together. The boys know that Neil and I are totally supportive of one another, and that we’re supportive of them. If you had told me when Neil and I first met that it would take four years for me to feel this way, I probably would have cried. But we just took things day by day over those four years. As bad as it was, it never really seemed THAT bad at the time. I suppose it’s because Neil and I were so happy together and in love.