What is a blended family?
The internet defines it as a stepfamily, bonus-family, instafamily, or a couple with a child or children from previous relationships. Single-parent and blended families now outnumber traditional families. In fact, according to this study done in 2014, nearly 1 in 10 children live with a step parent. Fast forward to almost 2022, that number is sure to be higher.
We recently got to talk with Mark and Odette, who are basically Toucan celebrities, and hear about their experience as a blended family. You can hear parts of their story in many of Toucan’s modules, but we really wanted to build on what they spoke about in the Growing module. Mark and Odette’s story of growing in love and life together is one that anyone could gain wisdom and inspiration from. We are so grateful to Mark and Odette for giving us the time, and sharing so openly with us.
The following is part of our conversation together:
Toucan Together: Mark, when you met the ‘lady with the glow’ as you have put it, how much time was there between meeting and getting married?
Mark: It was exactly a year to the day we met that we got married.
Odette: We’d known each other for 3 months and we were planning the wedding.
TT: How did you approach the topic of coming into marriage with Odette having a 3 year old girl, Ishiqua?
O: I don’t think we did talk about it. We didn’t talk about the pros or the cons. We went in blind. I don’t think the marriage prep we had been given helped when it came to being a blended family, it was more just “the bible says” and “keep your business to yourself.”
M: To be honest, the only thing Odette did when we met was show me a picture of Ishiqua, and that didn’t phase me. We didn’t have any conversations because of the nature of our Caribbean background, everyone always chips in anyway when it comes to raising a child. We were going to come together and work together to raise Ishiqua. It’s just kind of expected. I don’t think we realized that we had different parenting styles even though we come from very similar ethnic backgrounds, so those were some of the challenges, but there was no conversation. It was those unspoken or unwritten expectations.
TT: So then you get married, and you’re living together, how were the early years and how did those unspoken expectations play out?
O: I was quite an independent lady, I had never heard the word interdependent. I didn’t need anyone. So even though I was getting married, in my mind I didn’t ‘need’ Mark. So I was the mother. Yes, he’s the stepfather, but I was just getting on with what I used to do and thought in faith Mark would just support that — And he actually did! I don’t remember having any kind of conflict with Mark about our parenting in our earlier years, but as the years went by that’s when we started to have differences in our parenting approach.
M: At the beginning I think I was very much aware of being a stepparent, so I left a lot of the discipline to Odette, but we did come together as a team for the discipline. It was a lot of conversation, a lot of talking, a lot of trying to educate our daughter as to why that may not be the best action to take or the best behaviour. So at the beginning I left a lot of that to Odette until I became more comfortable as a step-father.
O: Until your relationship with Ishiqua grew and grew.
M: Yeah, and eventually she did start to call me dad. Her [biological] dad was still in the background. We kept him active in the background, and we encouraged him to keep his role as a part of our daughter’s life. I kept the door open to him to say “I’m not a threat to you as her father. So if you want to spend time with your daughter there’s the space. There is no closed door. There is no animosity or worry you would get back together.” Even the three of us have sat down to talk about it.
O: I think that was the foundation of why the parenting went well between the three of us. It’s because there was trust. A strong level of trust. Even if Mark wasn’t here it wasn’t a problem if he was here visiting his daughter. Mark would come home and join in playing with our daughter and her dad, and share a meal. We always had the belief that it takes a village to raise a child — I’ve always loved that saying. So for us just because we are now married and are a blended family, that doesn’t mean we exclude the other key adults in our family. They’ve all got a role to play.
M: That was another thing we didn’t really discuss. We both knew that she needed to know her dad. That was an important thing for me. I had seen other people lose contact with their own child. It is important that a child know their biological parents.
TT: You’ve already alluded to the fact that it wasn’t always easy, from the parenting side and the marriage side. Where did you first notice things becoming difficult in your relationship?
M: I think it was when Ishiqua was in primary school. We probably started to think of different ways about her schooling or the clothes she would wear. It was little things like that that would creep in. So we would have lots of conversations, and sometimes I used to just surrender to Odette and say “Okay, you are her mother.” but as she got older into her teenage years my parenting became a bit more prevalent. I like to teach, and Odette likes to tell. We used to have those battles that would leave us not talking while Ishiqua is off playing and being happy. Yeah, it was just those differences in parenting.
O: When she hit her teenage years and was rebellious, that’s when Mark and I were not really seeing eye to eye with parenting. I became very protective of her because she is our only one. I wanted to protect her and control her to keep her safe. Mark on the other hand was trying to show me it wasn’t the best approach. My experience as a teenage girl was why I was so protective. We tried not to argue in front of her.
M: We stood strong by not allowing our daughter to play us against each other. There wasn’t ever a “well mom said… or dad said” We would always check in with each other and we made sure our daughter saw.
TT: What was the most difficult time?
O: I think when our daughter got to her adult years. Parenting an adult child as a blended family brought different challenges and definitely impacted us in our marriage. Sometimes one of us wanted to step in and save, the other one was like “No, leave it. She needs to learn” … And sometimes her [biological] dad’s advice was different than what we were saying.
M: Yeah, leading up to the birth of our grandchild was the most difficult.
TT: This might be an impossible question to answer, but what difference did it make that she isn’t’ your biological daughter, Mark? How did that affect you or Odette?
M: in the early stages it affected me, but as years went on it got better. She started calling me dad, and even though her dad was in the room she would call me dad and refer to him as dad. I think I just got stronger and stronger in parenting. I think the idea of ‘stepparent’ disappeared, and I became ‘parent’. It did however come back a little bit the older she got.
O: I’ve lived in a blended family, where both my parents were my parents, but I had half brothers and sisters that I lived with. It wasn’t until my late teens that I realized we were a blended family. My parents treated us all the same, as if we were all their own. It was modeled very well to me that unconditional love. Neither parent had more of a say than the other. That was the model I took on when we got married. She was ours, not just mine.
TT: Is there anything specific about what grew you as a couple?
O: Family meetings. We would sit down regularly and talk about ‘W.W.W.’ and ‘E.B.I.’. What Went Well and Even Better If. You could only talk if you had the remote control in your hand. Taking turns, we would talk about what was working well and what would make us happier. We would all listen to each other and try an action to help that person if possible.
M: No matter what someone said, it wasn’t a time to defend, it was time to find a solution. We modeled problem solving and solution focus.
TT: Is there anything else you’d like to share as a blended family?
O: It’s really important not to be ashamed you are a blended family. We are proud to be. Especially as a Christian family you can sometimes feel there’s some shame or guilt. We were proud that God brought two families together, and provided me with a man willing to take that responsibility. A man who loved my daughter and even loved her father. Mark and her biological dad walked her down the aisle on her wedding day.
M: Some advice to anyone who is in a blended family. Keep the unit tight between all parties.
O: We want to be peacemakers. It takes a village, whether blended or blood, to raise a child.
Mark and Odette have been married for 25 years now (Congratulations!!). Their daughter is married and has a child of her own.
TIP — Toucan Together’s new Growing Module sets up some great conversations about strengthening your relationship as a couple. You’ll discover how to grow together through 5 common relationship challenges; explore 5 ingredients for a thriving relationship and find fresh perspectives for marriage (whether you’re married, living together or dating). You’ll also hear some great real stories from couples talking honestly and openly about their relationships. GET STARTED | LOG IN