Not long into our blended family adventure, we acquired an unusual pet: a sugar glider. Our sugar glider, Lucy, came with some very specific instructions regarding bonding.
"Bonding is a process, not a one-time event," the man in the pet store said. "You've got to put in the time to build the relationship. Sugar gliders are used to living in Australian rain forests, not people's houses, so you have to earn their trust. But when you do, it's so worth it." Over the next few weeks, I watched my children and my new husband's children bond with Lucy — and each other — as they all tried to earn her trust. I realized that bonding with a tiny marsupial and blending a family actually have a lot in common:
Bonding takes time.
Just as our family needed to be patient with Lucy, we had to be patient with one another, as well. Overnight, each of our children had gone from being one of two kids in the family to being one of four. They'd each gotten a new stepparent and two new siblings. Their family situation changed in an instant, but adjusting to one another would take a lot longer. Blending a family changes the status quo for everyone, and adjusting to new expectations takes time.
Compromise is key.
Before I married Eric, my children and I had always had dogs and cats. Eric has allergies, so I'd told the kids that we wouldn't be able to have pets anymore. But Lucy made compromise possible. The kids could still have a pet, and Eric's allergies would not make him miserable. Adopting Lucy taught us to consider each other's feelings and look for alternate solutions that could make everyone happy.
Behavior issues are often a cry for attention.
Kids — and sugar gliders — don't always know the best way to ask for the attention they need. When sugar gliders are scared, they make this awful noise called "crabbing." Kids make an equally awful noise, often referred to as whining. For the first few years of our marriage, my stepdaughter complained daily of stomachaches. After we discovered that it wasn't a physical problem but a need for more attention, we were able to give her a little extra TLC, and the stomachaches went away.
Setbacks are normal.
Bonding with Lucy was often a one-step-forward-two-steps-back process. One day she'd snuggle close. The next day she'd bite someone. Blending our family sometimes felt this way. One day was smooth sailing; the next day, the kids argued all the time. We remembered that every day was a new day, and today's setbacks would only have a lasting effect if we let them.
A few months after we'd adopted Lucy, the kids started begging for a second sugar glider. "Lucy is lonely, and she needs a friend," they insisted. After much consideration, we adopted Max, a brother for Lucy.
As the kids introduced the two of them, I heard my stepdaughter tell Lucy, "I know he's a stranger to you now, but soon, you'll feel like he was always part of your family." I smiled and thanked God, knowing her words were true about more than just our pets.Diane Stark is a freelance writer from Indiana who writes about family and faith.