A bigger family without the stretch marks I grew up with three sisters and one brother. A typical-sized family back when Catholics ruled the world of procreation. These days, two children are plenty. They say, “God doesn’t give you what you can’t handle.” My two daughters don’t yet understand how special they are to each other: They’re the only two blood siblings they’ll ever have. My divorce from their father has guaranteed that. But the ex has remarried and—voila!—step-siblings have magically appeared, all birthed and everything. My kids call them their “bonus” brother and sister. I like that. With blended families, there’s good and bad, as values, lifestyles and even food choices get thrown into one, big mix.
Jill and Sam are the bonus sibs. To my knowledge, they’re great kids. Jill wants to go to Princeton and Sam makes my daughters laugh. They like to dip fries in milk shakes, pizza in ranch dressing, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in milk. They do a lot of dipping over there, and other things, that we normally don’t do here. Honestly, it feels like a foreign exchange program every other weekend. I worry about the influence the bonus-sibs are having on my children, especially now that Jill and Sam are teens. My kids are growing up too fast. They’re already talking about boyfriends and driving. Innocence is so fleeting. I want my girls to bask in it as long as possible. But the step-sibs have pushed the fast-forward button, and I feel somewhat powerless to stop it. “Reality is, you don’t have much influence on what kids are exposed to in school or through step-children,” says Michael Webb, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Newport Beach, California. “If they’re growing up too fast, use it as a teachable opportunity to discuss your values. Help them understand their own thoughts and make decisions for themselves.” My oldest daughter is really having trouble adjusting to the new pecking order. In our family, she’s top dog. In the step-mix, she’s the middle child. “I have to do everyone’s work!” She makes overly dramatic comparisons to Cinderella. She also laments she doesn’t get special time with her father anymore since she shares him with two extra kids. Oh, what a web we’ve weaved. No wonder divorce rates are higher for second marriages. But a stepfamily can be a positive experience, too. “Your kids could end up with a step who is loving and caring, and a great role model. Someone who will challenge them in ways that will make them a better individual,” says Webb. I’m hoping for that scenario . . . the Brady Bunch ending. My kids grow up in a larger, loving family. And like the T.V. mom, I get to bypass the stretch marks. Lynn Armitage is an enrolled member of the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin. She is second in her family’s pecking order, and her favorite Brady Bunch character was Jan.