Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Blended Family: Not a New Phenomenon

I was intrigued by a piece on Good Morning America that aired today (August 15, 2010). GMA's Weekend Co-Anchor Bianna Golodryga covered the subject.

This particular segment covered the "ins and outs" of entering into and living with a blended family. To my understanding, there is a great deal of tensions and problems associated with living in a family comprised of a step-parent, step-children or half-siblings. As should be no surprise, many adult men and women are still attempting to fall into the Cleaver family mould; a scenario that has driven many parents to the edge of insanity trying to hold true to. However, this particular "news story" (I call it a waste of time) covered the idea of "blended families" as a new occurance amd a problem for non-biological, soon-to-be parents.

There are plenty of people in the world who love to be hated, but there are many who want to try their hardest to be loved by everyone. "New" parents constantly fear that they won't be the best parents to their step-children, or will be accused of trying to take the parental position away from a biological parent. This is where the segment originates. "What are the dos and don'ts of creating a 'blended family'?"

This is what sparked my interest. The concept of blended families is one rooted deep in American history. Death was a much more common occurance 350 years ago then it is now. In fact, it was a more common occurance 80 years ago. Divorce was not uncommon either, in the mid-17th Century, the American colonies held the higest divorce rate in the world. All of this isn't new stuff.

If we look to the Chesapeake Bay region in colonial America, there is a high percentage of death from disease. Today, these are accepted facts. Older men were marrying much younger women not only because the female population was small to begin with, but disease ravaged the southern colonies. It wasn't uncommon for families to consist of children, step-children, half-children and even unrelated children. Take for example the following scenario that I put together:

John Smith = Mary Joseph
___________|             |              |___________
|                                   |                                    |
John Jr.                         Daniel                          Joseph

On a sad occurance, Mary dies from ague (malaria fever), young Joseph is just 6 months old. So what happens to the family, does John take care of them himself? No. In many cases a neighbor would care for the young children who were still nursing, caring for them just like a mother. As the common practice for the time, families were large and women were to have as many children as physically possible. John marries Mary's younger sister Jane:

John Smith = Jane Joseph
___________|             |            |___________
|                                   |                                  |
Tabitha                         Robert                          Cary

So now you have three more children who are half-siblings to John Jr., Daniel and Joseph and Jane is their step-mother. Lets make the scenario more confusing, because this did occur on many occasion.

Sadly, John is killed in an Indian raid on the village they are living in. He was about 45 years old, Jane is only 22 (first child at 16) and could have 18 more years of child birth before she physically cannot have anymore offspring (8-9 children). So she remarries:

James Corrigan = Jane Joseph Smith
_____________|               |                     |                |_____________
|                                         |                     |                                          |
Margaret                               George          Duncan                               David

So now there are a total of 10 children living in the household. Jane is the mother of 7 of the children and step-mother to 3. James is the step-father of Jane's 3 children from her first marriage and the father of the last 4 children.,Hhowever he has no connection at all to the first three children from John and Mary Smith's marriage, yet he was still to care for them and NOT as a special scenario. The children would have been cared for just as if they were his own children.

My family has had a long history of blended families as a result of death and divorce.

Take my Great Great Grandparents, Martin Spink and Bertha McColl.

Bertha McColl = James Andrews
__________|                                      |___________
|                                                                                 |
James Wallace                                                                 Bessie
James Andrews dies:

Bertha McColl Andrews = Martin Scott Spink
Winfield Scott

Martin and Bertha divorce:

Bertha McColl Andrews Spink = George Ward

My Grandmother's family was a similar scenario:

Francis Kaniecki = Veronica Sterczynski
|                   |              |             |                  |
Mary              Marion       Wanda     Rose          Anthony

Rose Romanski = John Daniels
|                 |                |             |               |
Mary       John Jr.       Frank    Stanley     Helen

Veronica and John both died of consumption:

Frank Kaniecki = Rose Romanski Daniels
|                      |
Irene             Lorraine

My Grandfather Robert Ballard's mother died from Breast Cancer in 1944, he was only 14 years old. His father, George, remarried and Robert's step-mother cared for him and his father just as if Robert was of her own blood.

Today, people treat the blended family like it is something new and special; as if it is something to be truly worried about. Perhaps it's just one of those things that people, starving for attention, build up to be some amazing thing; that they are taking such great care of children who aren't their own and should be commended for it. Here is where I see the problems:

1.) Parents who are unsure or insecure about entering into a blended family because of worries about not being able to be a good parent to their step-children are probably not going to be good parents to children that are related by blood.

2.) Children who are concerned that "new" parents are trying to replace biological parents: well, hate to say it but they are replacing them. If little Johnny's mother and father get divorced and Johnny's daddy finds a hot, young girl to marry, he is clearly replacing his wife and subsiquently the mother of his children. Cold hard facts and shouldn't be treated as "Oh, I'm not trying to replace your (insert insignificant spouse who is no-good because he/she is a gold-digger and doesn't give me any)."

Parenting step-children shouldn't be a matter of special dos and don'ts, good parenting is good parenting...look at history...