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A common occurrence: Life in the blender

Hollis and I parent what is known as a “blended” family.

Blended in the sense that both of us were widowed, we met and married.

I brought four kids in, she brought two (something she occasionally reminds me of) and now we have the “Brady Bunch.” The musician’s did, in fact, play the Brady Bunch theme song at our wedding. The biggest problem was “Alice” never showed up.

Blended families are a complicated lot.

We have complicated parenting situations, complicated living situations, complicated finances, and, well, just about complicated everything.

Dave WenzelA blended family inherently means something went wrong with the ideal. Divorce, death, accident, neglect, abuse, abandonment — something went awry with someone’s original plan. If you are in a blended family you have probably found that every so often you have to re-explain the thing again — to help people figure out how you are related to the people around you.

Sometimes telling the story can be tiring.

I remember when one of my biological kids introduced a friend of hers to Hollis as “my mother.”

I felt warmed in my heart — she called her “mother” publically, I thought, we are making progress in becoming family.

I was happy.

Then my daughter leaned into me, under her breath and said, “Sometimes I get tired of explaining, so I just called her mother. It's easier."

Blended families are common.

The U.S. Census Bureau stopped trying to count blended families after the 1990 census.

The reason?

Family configurations are so complex they defy labels and names and counting. Trying to decide which category various family configurations fall under is such a daunting task, they literally gave up.

If you dig into the 2010 census to try and get a feel for the statistics (I have) you will become frustrated; the categories and labels just aren’t there. What is clear is that non-blended family configurations are probably now a minority, while blended families make up more than half of households.

While blended families are complicated, and they have the connotation of “something has gone wrong," Hollis and I have discovered that the problems blended families face are sometimes not all that different from non-blended families.

Issues of isolation, hurt, favoritism, rejection and so forth happen in both blended and non-blended families.

Let me give you three parenting goals that you should strive for no matter what your family configuration: fidelity, responsibility and benevolence. Parenting for character qualities can sometimes be more effective that parenting that enforces a particular behavior.

Fidelity essentially means that we are faithful to each other. Family sticks by family. We will be loyal to each other and support one another.

Responsibility means I will take care of my own stuff. When kids are little it begins by learning to clean up after themselves. As they grow and age responsibility begins to encompass their behavior, choices and emotions.

Last, benevolence. Benevolence includes empathy, generosity, tolerance, gratefulness and compassion.

Next time you find yourself disciplining your child, rather than telling them what their behavior “should have been,” pick one of those three things and ask them to stop and consider their actions. For example, “How might they have been more responsible in that situation?”

Engage them in thinking about their choices, helping them to learn how to think, not just act. Whenever I ask a child to think like this, they almost always already know what they should have done. Encourage the thinking and conversation.

All families, blended or not, have the ability to practice the three things that lead to a more peaceful home: fidelity, responsibility and benevolence.

Longtime Sandy resident Dr. Dave Wenzel is a parent, a professor of counseling, and a Licensed Professional Counselor. He works with children, individuals, families and couples. His office, River Ridge Counseling, is located in Sandy. He may be reached at 503-803-0444 or at davidwenzel@riverridgecounseling.com.

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