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Opinion: The new modern; why we ‘unblended’ our blended family

hispanic mother and afro kid girl sitting in a car in nature. Autumn season.

In 2009, Modern Family hit our TV screens. The now-iconic American sitcom, featuring the shenanigans of three families, which included the stereotypical blended and gay family tropes, soon became a worldwide hit. Fast forward to 2022 and Modern Family doesn’t feel very modern anymore. It feels normal, and so it should, because families really do come in all different shapes and sizes. Today, my unique experience in a thoroughly modern, ‘unblended’ family is no exception, but it works for us. Here’s why.

Vive la difference, family-style

I’m no stranger to doing things ‘my way’. I had my daughter on my own and was a single mother for many years before meeting my husband when my daughter was 7. I myself was raised by a single mother. My biological father was gay. And I grew up with a brother with special needs and Klinefelter syndrome (a genetic condition where a male is born with both male and female chromosomes, coined the ‘xtra’ special boy by some marketing genius in the 1980s).

Love at first sight…just add kids

I met my now-husband in 2016 and it was love at first sight. By 2017, we had blended our families, moving everyone onto a property big enough for the six of us. Because that’s what society says you do when you meet and already have children, right?

In 2018 we made it official. We got married and were now a properly blended family consisting of my daughter and me, my husband, and his three children from a previous marriage.

I gladly took on the stereotype titles of ‘stepmother’ and ‘wife’ and we began our lives as we were supposed to. Like all families, there was complexity involved. It’s hard to blend families, particularly when there is conflict between the new blended household and previous partners. But we wanted to believe (like most would in our shoes) that we would be different. We would overcome any historic conflict. Eventually, the family would settle, and our ‘new normal’ would begin.

The great divide (and commute)

Perhaps we were kidding ourselves all along. My stepchildren spend the bulk of their time with their biological mother on the other side of the city – a 45–60-minute drive on any given day, depending on when you leave and what’s happening with the traffic.

This meant, on the days they were with us, a decent drive both ways for school pickup, not including parking, actually collecting kids and school bags and so on, or errands, or shopping that was needed. It wasn’t ideal, but at this stage we were still just blindly doing what we thought was best. Plus, we countered, there was the bonus of spending time with the kids in the car, which is time to talk. We reminded ourselves ‘Who are we to complain? There are kids in regional and remote areas who travel further than ours every day.’

Lockdown homeschool love

None of us could have foreseen the impact of the world’s longest COVID lockdown (in Melbourne), which obliterated much of 2020 and 2021. Homeschool became the ‘new normal’ and the long commute became a thing of the past.

Unlike lots of other parents, we didn’t hear complaints about home learning from our children. On the contrary, they loved it and didn’t want to go back to regular school. Perhaps having a household of 4 kids under the age of 12 meant it felt like a mini school anyway! Or maybe it was a relief for my stepchildren, who no longer needed to sit in the car every morning and afternoon just so they could spend time with their father.

When 2022 finally dawned, bringing with it the new school year (in Australia) and finally, a return to school and our epic commute, it was like someone pulled a blind up. We finally saw the light of day. Together my husband and I realised that the drive for the kids wasn’t fun, and it definitely wasn’t adding any joy to their childhoods.

‘Unblended’; together, separately

I first came across the ‘unblended’ family through TikTok (thank you @shellhuntful). Shelley’s family shares a house but the property is split into two, with mum and her kids in one part of the house, and dad and his in another. They come together for holidays and family time such as days out or dinners together but have not blended their children’s lives. Dad does for his. Mum does for hers.

Spurred on by Shelley, I looked deeper and found that she was not the only one. Far from it. There was a whole movement of unblended blended families. A Facebook group called Apartners: families living together apart had over 4,000 members dedicated to this lifestyle. It begged the question; could our time together as a blended family be shorter in duration, but better quality as a result? Days out together, family dinners, picnics, parks, and holidays, activities where we just have fun rather than simply enduring the humdrum of everyday life – and that epic commute every other week?

Endless possibilities

I saw these families and their successes and wondered, could it work for us? Could the 5 days we have with my stepchildren be 5 days for him and his children to just be together in their own place, on their primary side of town? Could my daughter and I still be a part of family life, coming together and catching up on weekends and special occasions?

This would be more like the way it was before we blended our families, before we moved in together, before we got married and travelled blindly down that, frankly, stereotypical ‘blended family’ path.

Our questions highlighted what we really needed in our family; a solution that brought back joy for us all, and put our children’s needs first. Eventually, it felt like something we had to do. This wasn’t conscious uncoupling. It was coupling at its most modern. The unblended blended family.

‘Unblending’ our family, for the kids

We made the difficult decision to ‘unblend’ our family. There would now be one household for our married life with my daughter, and a second for our blended family that puts my stepchildren’s needs first – to be close to their mum, their school, and their social networks.

My husband and I agreed, “We are the new modern family. The rule-breakers, the change-makers, child-focused, marriage strong, together apart”. And so we will remain married, living together with my daughter for most of the time, then when he has his children, he will go to the other side of town and our second home.

Our future includes 2 households for our 2 families, 1 unblended blended family, and a marriage that includes time together in our 3-person blended family with my daughter, my husband, and I, and time apart while my husband spends time with his biological children. And then, of course, there will be lots of time together where we will share meals, movies, make memories, and can just enjoy being together.

I’m excited. It’s a new chapter. We are the new breed of modern family, and you know what? I really think this could work. I’ll keep you posted.

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Championing the voices of midlife women by nurturing connections and leading conversations around the midlife experience.

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