Blended Family Forum: What’s in a Name?

What’s in a name? Well, when you are in a blended family, a lot! When we remarry, we tend to focus our time and attention on blending the two families; we establish relationships, form new traditions, meld. And that’s all great. We should do those things. We want to feel like a family and find that family dynamic amongst the difficulty of step parenting, forming new sibling relationships and trying to co-parent with the other parents (the ones who don’t live in our house).

But we have to be careful to remember something. Before we blended, our children had established identities. They identified as a family with their biological parents and siblings. Everyone (in general) shared the same last name. When divorced parents remarry, the waters of identity can be muddied for the kids.

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All of us divorced parents know the identity crises we have faced when learning to be single adults again. Who are we? Who do we want to be? Who are our friends? And divorce can cause identity crises for everyone involved — especially children. When a child’s name is different than their mother’s, which is true in my case, it can be confusing for younger children and a glaring reminder of the separation of parents for older children.

When people have identified our family as “The Denhams” either verbally or even on Christmas cards, my boys have pointed out that they are not Denhams, they are Reostis. No one makes this mistake with any ill will or intent, they just generally identify families by the parents’ names. In the beginning, I didn’t pay as much attention to the comments from the boys because, of course they are Reostis. But they live with a man who, while he treats and loves them as his own, is not their biological father. And has a different name from them. And people often assume (especially if they don’t know their dad) that when they refer to their dad, they are talking about my husband. It is a conflicting place for them to be — not wanting to discount my husband, but also wanting to acknowledge their father.

I have a friend at church who ALWAYS greets our family as the “Denham Reostis.” It is so important because it acknowledges all of our kids. When people say just “the Denhams,” three of our children do not feel identified. So blended families, be aware of the nuance of identity — sign cards with both names, call yourselves with both names and let people know that is how you want to be recognized. Friends of blended families, be sensitive to knowing the last names of the kids and using those names when you identify them.

We are the Denham-Reostis. That is our family name.

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