Successfully blending families through a new marriage requires a lot of patience with the all issues that arise for stepsiblings, stepparents, stepchildren and, many times, ex-spouses. When blending families also means blending race, as my family is, it becomes a balancing act.
My wife is white and I am black. From my previous marriage, I have three kids who are of mixed race, black and white. My wife has two boys who are white, also from a previous marriage. This creates a unique dynamic. While many people can forget the differences they see in other races and cultures throughout the day when they get home, in a multi-racial family like ours, daily reminders instead follow us home.
With so many events regarding race and civil rights in the news these days, my wife and I often find ourselves having either to inform or comfort our kids. This is complicated by their ages. Having two children in high school, one in middle school and two in elementary school means the level of questioning and understanding varies greatly. Coupled with the multitude of different cultural influences each has encountered – from extended family to the national media, our work becomes even more challenging.
Blending families, racial understanding
The key, we’ve found, is creating an environment of open communication and emphasizing that we are, at all times, a family unit. As difficult as these conversations are, we make sure our home is a place where our kids can safely ask honest questions and share honest concerns about racial tensions. We talk about how these issues relate to each member of our family and share how we see things from each of our own unique viewpoints.
But the complexity of having such a diverse family is also one of its greatest strengths. My kids joke about the “advantages” of being of mixed race: being able to conveniently identify at any given moment with whichever race suits their witty narrative. It is also equally interesting to watch my kids’ reactions to their stepbrothers as they relate observations about race from a perspective that my kids can’t ever really understand because, as much as my children like to joke about being white from time to time, they will never have a genuine Caucasian experience like those of their stepbrothers.
Our kids are fortunate to have the perspective of my wife as well. Having lived and worked in culturally diverse areas, my wife brings a broad and informed view of many issues and is particularly adept at helping our kids relate to things from both sides of those issues. Working in a law office, she can often bring to their attention scenarios of social inequalities that our kids hear about on TV but don’t have a tangible parallel to relate to in their lives.
Blending families, combating stereotypes
As for me, I feel fortunate to be involved in the lives of my wife’s sons as it gives me the ability to provide them with a positive black male role model, one who combats the images and stereotypes they may most often be exposed to in the media and pop culture. They see my passion as a father with my own kids. They know me as a person on an intimate level. They have a daily view of a successful, responsible and educated man who is dedicated to providing for his family, and is as dedicated to them as I am to my own kids, and who just happens to be black. I can think of few better ways to give back to society than providing a positive male example across racial boundaries.
Yes, we get some looks when we are out as a family. Then again, any non-mixed couple with five kids in tow would turn some heads. But we do love to see the wheels turning in people’s heads as they surely assume my kids could be mine and my wife’s, but the white kids, probably not so much. More often than not, we will have a good laugh about it when we get home. But most of all, we also like to use those moments as openings for further conversation with our kids about race.
About the author
Sean Singleton is a husband, proud father and stepdad to five children. The Northern Californian resident combines his passion for fatherhood and design as the founder of The PopLyfe Shop, one of the fastest growing lifestyle brands for dads. He spoke about blending families at a recent Dad 2.0 Summit panel. You can follow him on Facebook or on Twitter.