"Hey, who's in my house?" Listen carefully and chances are you know someone who's expressing that sentiment - and that person is very likely a stepkid. Approximately one-third of all weddings in America today form stepfamilies (Deal, 2014). So it comes as no surprise that blended families are an increasingly hot topic everywhere - from television shows like "The Fosters" to hundreds of "support" groups on MeetUp, Twitter and Facebook. There also continues to be a rise in "kids of divorce" groups, such as Banana Splits, in area elementary schools.

While much has been written about the stereotypes and sometime realities of the "wicked stepmother" and stepparent struggles, an integral part of these fast-growing families is not addressed fully - the stepkids. To a kid, often already feeling confused from his or her parents' divorce, being mixed into a new family is extremely challenging.

Diana Renn was 12 when her stepmom, Sally, materialized in her life. She'd go between her mom's house and dad's house, and watched the house she'd always known transform from her mother's classy decor to her stepmom's eclectic style. Her old bedroom transformed, too. She spent the first few months of her weekend visits at her dad's, sleeping on her stepmother's former husband's old couch, in the place her bed used to be. "My old bed still existed, at the new house where I lived with my mom and sister," Diana says. "But if I could have flown between two houses on it like a magic carpet, I would have. I missed the soft sag of my own mattress, my familiar faded sheets and the cozy comforter I had picked out myself a year before the divorce."

Comfort is just one of many things stepkids often lose and struggle to find - but some do. For many of the stepkids who submitted stories to my stepkid anthology, "Hey, Who's In My House? Stepkids Speak Out," dozens of good and bad emotions such as -- Displaced, Torn, Lost, Lucky, Alone, Happy, Confused, Furious, Proud, Scared, Ignored, Criticized, Loved, Annoyed, Tired, Uncertain, Happier, Hesitant, Mad, Hopeless, Hopeful, Exhausted, Shocked and Stronger -- can explode at different points in time.

This roller coaster of emotions shouldn't, but often does, surprise some parents who enter into remarriage after divorce. "The emotions the pre-adolescent child as she learns of the new blended family are similar in many ways to the emotions she feels when she learned about the divorce," says Dr. Edward Farber, PhD and Clinical Psychologist at the Reston Psychological Center; Clinical Assistant Professor at the George Washington University School of Medicine; and author of "Raising the Kid You Love With the Ex You Hate" (raisingthekidyoulove.com). "Again, there is an unexpected turn of life events. Divorce leads to a primary breaking of trust - no matter what, my parents will always be there for me. Just as the message that the parents no longer love each other shatters the trust, the introduction of a new blended family shatters the one-on-one relationship that developed between at the child and parent after the divorce."

It can become crystal clear in something as seemingly simple as a preference for certain food. For example, Dr. Farber says, "The pizza that I finally got used to being cut in half when we watched movies on Friday nights together, now gets cut in thirds or smaller pieces as the new relationship is introduced and the blended family becomes a reality." In my book I recount how, 35 years after spending my tween years at my dad and stepmother's house every other weekend, what I remember most is how she put onions in her spaghetti sauce. That's not the way my mom did it; it would never happen at my "old" house. I never did get used to it. Still, I sat there, slowly twisting and slurping the spaghetti, silently counting the hours until Sunday arrived and I could return to my "real" house.

Happy blended family stories exist, too. Just as there is a predictable response to most children after divorce that allows recovery and continued positive growth and development, adjusting to blended families also demands some time, before it, too, works out well, says Dr. Farber. "Over time, most children adapt well to divorce. Likewise, over time, most children adapt well to the blended family."

Sure enough, probably half of the stepkid essayists in my book have powerful and positive things to say. Whether they express that a blended family has given them more people to love, or that they wouldn't change a thing, they consider and call their half-siblings "real" siblings. Many feel that growing up in a blended family shaped their identity and made them who they are today - stronger.

Resources:

Support for Stepkids


Erin Mantz is a parenting writer and editor of "Hey, Who's In My House? Stepkids Speak Out" (Motivational Press, October 2015). She resides in Potomac, Maryland with her two sons, ages 10 and 14. heywhosinmyhouse.com