The definition of family is changing. With marriages, divorces and remarriages comes more step or blended families. Half of all Americans will be part of a stepfamily during their lives, according to The National Stepfamily Association of America.
The Martin Family, of Carson City, is already there. They have spent the last eight years in a blended family, dealing with both the positive and the negative sides of attempting to make two independent families become one.
Bob Martin met his wife, Barbie, 15 years ago. Bob's willingness to be involved as a parent was an attractive quality, she said.
"He is by far the most giving father I have ever met," Barbie said. "All the kids adore him."
Bob's daughter Kendra, 20, said, "Even if he had bills to pay, he always wanted me to have money and be able to do fun things. That's just the dad he is."
In 1998, after being together for seven years, the couple was married.
To their new family, the couple brought two children each - a boy and a girl - and soon added a fifth child, David, 7.
Having spent seven years together before getting married, the couple was aware of the personalities they were inheriting, and the challenges of being part of a blended family.
"It's definitely a diverse family. Barbie's kids are different than my kids," Bob Martin said. "Her kids are loud and boisterous and mine are more mild and low key."
Dealing with different personalities, parenting styles and traditions is one of the common problems faced by stepfamilies, according to Greg Giron, a clinical psychologist with Carson Tahoe Behavioral Health Services.
"Blended families have many, many challenges. It is sort of like starting a new life. It's a wonderful thing but it develops in a different way," Giron said. "How do you celebrate Christmas or a birthday? Where do you go on family vacations? Everyone comes into a blended family in a unique situation and you just have to realize that."
One of the things recommended to help blended families integrate is simply spending time together, allowing the relationships to develop over time.
"We are close with each other's kids. I've spent a lot of time with her son especially. You just don't have that lifelong bond that you have with your own children, and you are aware of that and just have to try to make up for it," Bob Martin said.
The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that as of 2000, approximately 8 percent of the 84 million children in the United States are either adopted or stepchildren to at least one parent in their home.
Giron said that each blended family faces different circumstances based on the families personalities, ages of the children and previous experiences.
"There's this idea that all the sudden everyone will be happy. There's a period of adjustment that everyone has to be open to," Giron said. "Stepparents and children both need to get used to the their new roles and that takes time."
The biggest challenge for Bob Martin was suddenly becoming the parent of a teenager.
"With your kids, you grow up with them. You learn their personalities and how to handle them," Bob Martin said. "I wasn't ready to be dropped into the life of a teenage daughter."
According to the Martins, the fact that the children had known each other before becoming a family helped make the transition easier.
"I grew up friends with my stepbrother and I looked up to my stepsister. I actually really enjoyed it when we became a family," Kendra said.
The addition of David also presented a different set of challenges. While he had siblings, they don't live with him. Meaning he is the youngest child but also kind of the only child because his siblings are so much older.
"He has the only-child syndrome, plus it's doubled because he's the baby. Each one of our kids is completely different, but after years of being around them you just unconsciously switch gears," Bob said.
"For parents, just give (children) respect and get to know them and slowly these relationships develop," Giron said. "But that can depend on the ages of the children. Older children may never really accept the stepparent as someone they love. They just become a comfortable stranger."
The Martins say that in their case, relationships have developed between all members of the family.
"Raising kids isn't hard," Bob said. "It's not rocket science. Just put yourself in their world for a couple seconds and you can be a good dad.
"It's harder to keep my grass green than to understand my kids."
• Contact reporter Jarid Shipley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1217.