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All Mixed Up: Life in a Blended Family

By Jennifer Harman Ph.D. - Colorado State University

Adventures in Blending: Memoirs of Mixing Families

A few years ago, I shared my ups and downs of the dating scene in my blog Adventures in Dating: Memoirs of a Single Mom. Although dating is not necessarily a novel blog topic, I wrote about it from the perspective of a single mom. I also wrote about dating from the perspective of a researcher who studies and thinks about relationships all the time. For those who know me well, they know that I am constantly quoting empirical studies and psychological theories to explain why different things happen in relationships. Trust me, it’s endearing.

My prior blog was fun to write, although also a bit embarrassing and scary to use my personal dating experiences as fodder. Poking fun at myself and my experiences was at times a vulnerable experience, but it was something I was willing to do in order to illustrate how powerful and insightful it can be to use science to understand how and why events in relationships transpire the way that they do.

After I decided to become more serious with one of the men I was dating, the Consultant, I fittingly changed the title of the blog to Adventures in Dating: Memoirs of Midlife Relationships. This title worked well until we decided to marry. “Dating” did not really quite fit the title anymore.

I then struggled to find much research and theory to understand what was happening in our new blended family. A lot of relationship research has generally focused on dating relationships or long-term, first marriage(-like) relationships. This focus is problematic for me when trying to understand what was happening after the Consultant and I married. For example, theories about power in relationships are useful to understand how decisions are made. However, I could not find theories that explained how children, and most importantly, ex-spouses affect the power dynamic of the family. In other words, it is great that relationship science is addressing relationships as the influence of partners on each other rather than as individual actors. However, the application of this work to families is at times limited when the family has been reshaped by divorce and remarriage, and when there are many other influential people in the family system.

Many people in my life were also struggling with the challenges of being a (step)parent in blended families; they did not know how to make sense of it. Things worked so differently in their prior marriages. They came to me with questions because I was the “expert.”  But my answers were insufficient. As a consequence, I changed my line of research and stopped writing my blog. Over the last few years, I have been interviewing and researching parents in divorced and blended families to find answers. That has kept me busy.

Starting tomorrow, I will resume writing my bog, this time about being a (step)parent in a blended family; the blog has been aptly renamed Adventures in Blending: Memoirs of Mixing Families. In order to protect the identity of the members of my family:

1)      I will use nicknames for individuals (e.g., the Consultant);

2)      I will not always write about events in the order in which they occurred. In order to best illustrate the realities of blended family life, based on my experience and those of many others I know and have researched, I will take liberty to present events in a particular order to tell the story best.

3)      At times, I will also write about experiences that happened to other people as if they happened to us. I will include these borrowed stories so that the reader knows not all that I blog about actually happened to us.

The reader should therefore understand that the events and people depicted in the blog may or may not have actually happened in my life, but are an accurate depiction of what often does happen in blended families. It is also important not to presume that what is written is what a particular family member actually did. Therefore, there will be a disclaimer at the end of each blog stating the following:

All characters and events appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, or real experiences is purely coincidental.

I use my “alter-blended family” to illustrate the reality of blended family life, its highs and lows, challenges and victories. There will not always be a lot of research or theory to apply to the experiences I will share, so I will sometimes use the depicted experiences as a call to action to my relationships research friends. Being in a blended family does feel mixed up and chaotic at times – not unlike being in a blender -- but it is also an experience I would not trade for anything in the world due to the love and life the Consultant and I have built together. It remains an adventure, which is important for personal and relationship growth. I look forward to sharing our alter-experiences with you!

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Dr.  Jennifer Harman - Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Harman's research examines relationship behaviors that put people at-risk for physical and psychological health problems, such as how feelings and beliefs about risk (e.g., sexual risk taking) can be biased when in a relationship. She also studies the role of power on relationship commitment.

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