When I met Aarti and Shruti at a swimming pool, I thought they were twins. There was a striking similarity between the two.
But like most twins, they had different temperaments — Aarti was an extrovert while Shruti was happy being by herself.
However, when I got to know their mother Chitra, I realised that Aarti and Shruti were actually step sisters. It was a blended family.
Blended families are families created by divorce and re-marriage, where biologically unrelated children often live in the same house. Statistics show that at least one-third of all children in the US live in a blended family before they are 18.
Although the numbers are way below in India, they are increasing. Many, who’ve grown up on a staple diet of fairy tales think of a step parent as cruel, ugly and jealous. Chitra says, “It felt strange initially. You love your new spouse but you may not love his children right away.. similarly, the children might not take to you instantly. And when there are children involved, you desperately want them to get along. It hurts if it’s otherwise.”
The biggest hurdle in Chitra’s remarriage was the question of her daughter adjusting to her new family. The role of the biological parents becomes important then. Chitra’s ex-husband is no more but her new husband’s ex-wife was most co-operative.
In fact, she withdrew for a while to give her daughter enough time with her new family. At the same time she was always there if needed.
With just a one-year age gap between Aarti and Shruti, they hit it off really well. In fact they took more time adjusting to their new parents. Since the communication between them was smooth, even this was easy. It’s five years now and the family is doing well.
Chitra feels that a relationship should not be pushed on to the children. “They will rebel or not accept it. Every new relationship needs time, so I advise patience,” she says. Chitra introduced me to Kavita, another woman from a blended family, whose teenaged daughters could not adjust to their seven-year-old step brother.
Kavita is a working mother and has to divide her free time between her daughters and her step son. She says, “My son was only three and needed a huge chunk of my time and attention. My daughters found this difficult to digest.”
But in a few days, they developed a strong bond with their new father. That worked. Kavita feels that the real challenge for the children is adjusting to new parents, step siblings, new family rules, the divided attention of parents, new friends and neighbours.