Blended FamiliesAug 01, 2017 08:30AM ● By Ben Scott
From Left to right: (Back): Brian, Brenton and Lauren; (Front): Brycen, Nikolai and Logan
by Ben Scott
On the surface, Brian and Lauren Baldwin’s family looks a little bit like the Brady Bunch. When the Westmont couple married in 2013 their “blended family” was officially formed: Lauren and her two children (Nikolai, 9 and Logan, 14) came together with Brian and his two children (Brycen, 14 and Brenton, 17) to form a single family unit. But comparisons between the famous T.V. family and the Baldwins only go so deep, their story messier and more heartfelt than the half-hour television show.
It didn’t take Lauren (a payroll specialist) and Brian (a firefighter with the Brookfield Fire Department) long to realize they were right for each other after meeting on a Cub Scout camping trip—at the time, Logan and Brycen were involved in the program together, and even coincidentally shared a locker at school.
“We didn’t know about [the locker] until after we started dating,” Brian laughed.
The couple dated for six months before Lauren and her sons moved in with Brian (at the time he was living in Brookfield). Shortly thereafter, they moved back to Westmont, only two blocks from where Lauren had previously lived with her mother. Lauren and Brian settled into their new home, were married, and began to adjust to their new blended family dynamic. Life immediately got busier for the Baldwins, with both Lauren and Brian working and all four boys going to school and involved with sports through the Westmont Park District.
In an article on the website lovetoknow.com, Rachel Hanson notes that “While conflict happens in all types of families, blended families have many unique issues that many people are unaware of until they start dealing with them. Knowing what to expect in a blended family can help family members address issues before they spiral out of control, or avoid these problems altogether.”
For their part, Lauren and Brian initially faced some issues when it came to resolving disparate disciplinary styles.In an article on the website lovetoknow.com, Rachel Hanson notes that “While conflict happens in all types of families, blended families have many unique issues that many people are unaware of until they start dealing with them. Knowing what to expect in a blended family can help family members address issues before they spiral out of control, or avoid these problems altogether.”
“One of the hardest things at first was probably these guys getting used to me,” Brian said. “I’m loud and I come down hard. I think Logan and Nicolai not having a male role model just living with Lauren, and then all of a sudden this loud guy comes into their lives—that was a big change for them.”
Brian said he’s learned to “dial it back” a little over the years, and in turn Lauren appreciates the positive impact Brian’s presence has had on her sons’ lives. And fortunately, Brian and Lauren agree on the foundational values they want to instill in their children.
“For both Brian and I, the number one, most important things is respect from all the guys,” Lauren said.
As parents and partners, Lauren and Brian also point to the importance of communication and patience.
“Getting to know these guys and learning their habits and their feelings and all that kind of stuff—you have to communicate and you have to have a lot of patience,” Lauren said.
Patience was especially important for the Baldwins as they adjusted to sharing space together. Regarding territorial issues, Hanson cautions that children may have issues with space and feel threatened when step siblings take over parts of their home.
“The children moving into the home will not be happy because they feel like the place is not ‘theirs’ and they are not welcome.” (lovetoknow.com)
Luckily, Brenton already knew what to expect when it came to dealing with stepsiblings; Brenton’s stepdad has three kids who would spend time at Brenton’s mom’s house when he was younger, and this early life experience gave him some perspective and the ability to empathize with Nikolai and Logan.
“You have to understand that you’re new to [your stepsiblings] and they’re only really coming over to see their parents,” Brenton said. “Over here, I realized I was in my other step family’s situation, where I was coming over to see my dad and Nikolai and Logan were always here. So, you just have to accept they’re going to take over the house and your room sometimes. You have to take it easy and try not to get over frustrated.”
Typically, Brycen and Brenton spend weekdays at their mom’s house and weekends with Lauren and Brian. And while Lauren says the boys have adjusted to the transition, other kinds of disciplinary issues can arise for children in blended families who split their time between two households. In her article “Navigating the Challenges of Blended Families,” Holly Robinson tackles this problem of discipline between ex-partners and separate homes: “In a perfect world, the rules and values in each of your child’s homes would be identical. In the real world, the most practical way of handling inevitable household differences is to choose what’s most important to you and compromise when necessary.” (parents.com)
“We have almost two lives sometimes with the four of us, and then Brycen and Brenton come on the weekends. But it flows nicely. It’s not a hard thing,” Lauren said.
With the kids getting older and going in different directions, it isn’t always easy for all of the Baldwins to spend time together. However, according to an article by Kate Bayless on parents.com, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“Sometimes the best way to help your new blended family is to spend time apart,” Bayless writes. “This allows each person in the stepfamily to get what he or she needs from the other. Strengthening the individual bonds in the stepfamily will help strengthen the stepfamily as a whole.” (parents.com)
When they can get the whole family together, Lauren and Brian said they enjoy taking trips in the family camper.
“We go pretty much anywhere,” Brian said. We haven’t been back in a couple years, but we did three years straight up in Minnesota on Lake Pepin. We’ve camped out in Indiana by my folks and all over Illinois. We go wherever the truck takes us.”
Locally, the Baldwins take advantage of Westmont events like Crusin’ Nights and the Taste of Westmont, and all four of boys have been involved with sports through the Westmont Park District.
Brenton in particular has been highly active in football. Going into his senior year, he’ll be starting quarterback at Westmont High School, and he’s already looking forward to playing in college.
“I’m looking at a bunch of D3 schools. That’s where my coach seems to think I’m best fit. But I’m still playing my senior year, and I hope I get some good tapes,” he said.
Like his older brother, Brycen also plays football. Meanwhile, Logan is involved with golf and basketball, and Nikolai keeps busy with basketball, baseball and wrestling.
Indeed, Lauren and Brian have reason to be proud of their sons, and after four years of marriage they can also take pride in the life they built and the ways in which their two families have jelled into a single unit. According to Brian, any blended family can be successful as long as the family members enter into the new situation with patience and an open mind.
“And make sure to get a bigger car!” he added.