A family is a family no matter how small…or how large and different! There are many family types and they are growing in number and sub-category like never before, especially with the number of marriages decreasing. You ask, “What exactly is a blended family?”, and the answer is simple but varied from home to home.
The first known use of “blended” as a descriptive term for a family was noted around 1975. The term “blended” is a synonym for “step” in many societies. Fortunately, there are more sources than the Merriam-Webster Dictionary to define this unit of people! The broadest and most complimentive definition, for the purpose of this column states:
“1. A family that is formed when separate families are united by marriage or other circumstance; a stepfamily. 2. Various kinship or nonkinship groups whose members reside together and assume traditional family roles” (Barker, 2003, p. 46).
Following the key points in the definition, it is safe to say that not only are stepfamilies “blended”, there are many adopted and multi-generational family situations that fall into this definition. Trying to find a family is what every person wants (to belong) and sets out to do when we form families. Why do we say blended rather than step family? This question is simple to answer: The term “step” is a label and sets everyone into a specific role with pre-established barriers that are associated with “step” relationships. On the other hand, “blended” is decision to live as a family. It is not bound by the old structured belief of who fills what shoes and how, nor does it expect the family members to be the same as those of story books. A blended family is one that believes even though they are not nuclear they are not unusual or destined to adhere to stereotypical roles/duties…they love all members equally and value no one person over another.
Imagine this, you are walking through your community park and see a child. This child plays with another child. Both call upon a third that is setting under a tree listening to an ipod but gets up and moves to the children upon hearing the excitement in their voices. Before the oldest child arrives to them two adults come over and watching them are a picnic table full of other adults and children of various ages, socializing and eating on this sunny day. The three people all converge over the youngest two children who want nothing more than to show the fuzzy caterpillar they see on the ground by the slide! Everyone smiles and returns to their original activity and you think to yourself that looks like such a nice family. The one thing you do not realize is that the oldest child was the gentleman’s, the original child you saw was the woman’s, the youngest was shared between both of them and all those people at the tables were their extended family…and while they seem like a perfectly nice family, they are comforted by the fact that upon marrying one another they chose to blend their family rather than following in the traditional role of step-this and step-that.
In closing, one of the best definitions of “family” isn’t a definition at all… it is who we are, the actions that we take, that defines us. This quote is one that portrays what a family, regardless of type, is/does:
“The family. We were a strange little band of characters trudging through life sharing diseases and toothpaste, coveting one another’s desserts, hiding shampoo, borrowing money, locking each other out of our rooms, inflicting pain and kissing to heal it in the same instant, loving, laughing, defending, and trying to figure out the common thread that bound us all together (Erma Bombeck).”
Barker, R.L. (2003). The social work dictionary (5th ed.). Washington, DC: NASW Press.
Jone Johnson Lewis. “Erma Bombeck Quotes.” About Women’s History. URL: http://womenshistory.about.com/cs/quotes/qu_erma_bombeck.htm . (01/20/2011).