Why Blended Families Are Good Training Grounds For College

family on a beach
Our blended family life has provided our children with many life lessons.

Every night, I am lucky to sit down for dinner with people I love. Whether it is four of us on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays or six of us on Mondays, Wednesdays, and every other Friday and Saturday, dinner is a tradition. This blended family has eaten together ever since we came together.

Lately, though, I’ve been looking around the table with a lurking feeling that, soon enough, our number will shift again when my oldest stepson goes to college. But mixed with my usual angst over any impending change, I also have a newfound sense of pride as I realize how much our blended life is doing to help prepare the college path for our kids. By the time they get ready to leave our nest, here is what they will have already learned:

Five Life Lessons From Blended Families

Even When You Don’t Get Your First Choice, Things Still Work Out

When I got divorced six years ago, my twin girls were only seven. Too young to understand what it meant, but old enough to know that having their dad and I live separately was not what they wanted, not anyone’s first choice. I heard versions of a similar story from my stepsons. No doubt that it was a bumpy few years when we were on our separate journeys and then when we joined up.

Fast forward to today, five years later. We are a family who shows up for one another. Whether for dinner or something bigger, we’re making it work. I’m keeping this one in my back pocket when college application time rolls around. I’ll remind our kids that while they may not get into their top pick, things will still work out because there isn’t only one right school for anyone, and each of them already knows how to thrive when it comes to Plan B time.

You Can Make Big Transitions (You’ve Done it Before)

Moving to a different state. Living in a different space. Going to a new school. Been there. Done that. It’s not easy to start over at any point in life; our kids know this firsthand. Building a new life is messy, scary, and exciting, whether in second grade, mid-forties, or a new freshman on campus.

While it was not our kid’s first choice to start fresh, they proved they could do it at an age when they couldn’t even tie their shoes, which is why I will worry just a little bit less about whether they can successfully handle the college transition.

Living with People Ain’t Always Easy

Sharing a house with family is hard. Sharing a house with people who are becoming your family is harder. Everyone must be known: their likes and dislikes, habits and peeves, styles and quirks. He is pretty much always late. She is a slob. He is a loud talker. She is moody. Whatever it is, it’s not easy to start living with strangers, even when they have been pre-approved by a parent or college admissions board. You might gain step-siblings and new best friends, but you also lose some things: privacy and the ability to treat your living space as if you and those closest to you are the only ones who live there.

In our house, we all need to take turns. Whether it is to use the computer, get cleaned up, or share your day. If we aren’t respectful and considerate of one another, it can make for a fair amount of unpleasantness, followed by a cold shower. Undoubtedly, our kids and anyone living in a blended household will have figured this out before becoming someone else’s roommate (and, hopefully, not someone’s inconsiderate one).

Every Name Has a Story

We may be one blended family, but there are three active surnames in our house. I have a different one from my girls, and my husband and boys share another. We sometimes call ourselves the MAPs — a first-letter mash-up of our last names. It’s a good reminder that behind any name, whether a given one or a chosen one, stories, traditions, and personal histories make each of us unique.

Because of our family’s mix of names and backgrounds, our kids have had to learn how to accept new people into their lives in a very personal way. At the same time, they have had to figure out who they are and whose they are amid super-sized families with eight grandparents and countless cousins. No matter where they end up at school, they will leave here with a hard-won appreciation for other people’s stories, including their own. I hope that it has instilled in them open hearts and minds when meeting roommates, professors, and the rest of the world.

You Have to Find Your Place at the Table

Back to our family dinners. When we started living together, we bought a table that seats ten. I don’t remember us ever having a conversation about who was going to sit where. It took some time and trial and error. We jostled chairs for a bit, but ultimately each found “our” spot. Now our expected (but not assigned) chairs are comfortable and familiar.

Much like we did at home, all first-year students must figure out their spot at the table, literally and figuratively. It is part of the college journey of discovering more about yourself and your people.  When our four head off to their separate, respective campus dining halls, having to find their seats may feel very familiar, and I won’t complain about that one bit.

Until then, I will appreciate being on the road to college with our blended crew. While it might be easier if there were a plan or a map to help us, I can’t complain; the MAPs are making their way without.

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About Melissa Milsten

Melissa Milsten lives in Westchester, New York with her husband, their four teenagers and Ruby the dog (who is sometimes the best behaved member of the family). Her background is in publishing and marketing. When she isn’t working or parenting, you might spot her on a yoga mat or lacing up a pair of sneakers. You can read more about her here

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