When my fiancé and I are asked how many kids we have, we answer without hesitation: four.
Each of us bring two biological children from our first marriages to our family unit (ages 12 to 20).
But our family looks a lot different than most families. We don’t live under a single roof. We live in neighboring cities about 35 minutes away from each other, and that is how it will stay as our plans for marriage and cohabitation align with the second eldest’s graduation from high school and transition to college.
My fiancé and I met three years ago on a dating app. Both of us separated after long marriages. We were both single parents; my kids with me almost full-time and his with him 50-50 (his kids both moved in with him full-time during our relationship), navigating how to date while raising kids. We were both dating, but with no real thoughts of a serious relationship or marriage in our futures. We wanted companionship and someone to spend time with when we were not parenting.
Unlike many of our first dates, we both knew early on that there was something between us, so we talked about the logistics. We lived 35 minutes apart, he had kids in high school, and I was three months away from an eighth-grade graduation. With kids in established schools, we both knew that it would be many years before either of us could even consider moving closer. We decided then that we’d continue to see where our relationship went, knowing that it would be years before it could look any different.
What happened next, I don’t think either of us expected. We started to plan activities to be able to spend time together and with our kids. We went to theme parks and planned family dinners, while each continuing to dedicate time to our biological children. He took his on a two-week road trip out west, and my kids and I visited California for the first time.
During this time, we started to see our family unit coming together. I’ll never forget the first time that one of the kids introduced their friend to us; she said, completely naturally, “This is my stepsister and stepbrother.” My fiancé and I looked at each other and smiled.
We’ve continued with this travelling together. We even took a 15-day road trip, all six of us in my Dodge Journey driving to the East Coast. The fact that they are all still alive is a success story on its own.
We spend major holidays together and celebrate birthdays and major life accomplishments. We travel, plan family dinners, and make sure we each keep each other up to date on everything happening in the kids’ lives. The kids all spend time with their other biological parent, and both of our exes respect the relationships that have been developed with their stepparent.
Ask any of our kids who is in their family, and each would include their biological sibling and step-siblings. Our family status is not defined by where we live.
A recent decision to purchase a cell phone for the youngest prompted concern from the 17-year-old, who wanted to make sure that we knew that his stepsister should have a better phone than her 12-year-old brother, which reminded us that they have each other’s backs—even if they don’t share a house.
A lot of people think we are crazy. We spend twice as much money maintaining two homes and even more on gas driving back and forth. What we have gained is stability for all four of the kids post-divorce and a family where we get to focus on the good stuff—family dinners, vacations, and quality time together without all of the complications of trying to blend under one roof. It’s not without its challenges; logistically, we spend a lot of time back and forth, making sure that we get to spend time together as a couple, meet our kids’ needs, and spend time all together.
As the kids have gotten older, spending time together gets more complicated. Jobs, dating, and social lives have become the focus for the three oldest, but I don’t think that is any different for teen families who do live together.
What I do know is that I am proud of the unit that we have developed over the last three years, and it’s okay that my family looks different than other families.
It’s mine, and I love it.