Subunits in stepfamilies
I saw this in a comment on another site and love it: I was just earlier today thinking about this and just happened to come across this comment referencing it when I've never seen it mentioned anywhere else before:
One of the best things we ever did was talk to a therapist who explained to us (my husband, really, who felt enormously guilty about doing anything fun when we didn't have his kids as well as ours) that in a stepfamily - there are different sub-families. My stepdaughters are a unit in and of themselves, because they go back and forth between two houses. My stepdaughters and their mom are another separate unit, with shared memories and traditions that are unique to them. We are a unit - all of us, the stepdaughter, our kids, my husband and I - but the unit made up of just our kids and us is just as valid. We are a family too - not a family that's missing two members because they are with their mom. It really helped to eliminate the guilt. We love having all the kids together, but it's okay when they're with their mom and it's just my husband and I and our three kids. That's valid and whole, in and of itself.
That's the conclusion I've come to: we tried to make it all one cohesive unit exactly like a nuclear first family and it just isnt. The kids have 3 totally different situations and it's just different - the subunits perfectly describes it.