Two little balls of fur sit next to me, quietly snoring in their snug little beds inside of their habitat in the corner of my living room. As I gaze on the sweet faces of Phoebe, a ball of white fluff with pink ears, and Bianca, a friendly little guinea pig marked like a panda bear, I find myself moved by affection and gratitude for what this pair of creatures has given to my family.

My family didn’t form in the customary fashion following marriage and the combining of DNA. Instead, my home is filled with eight individuals who first knew other original families with other parents in a different home. We joined forces six years ago after my husband and I divorced our previous spouses, met, re-married, and began the process of blending our families.

It has not always been easy. In fact, I would characterize this endeavor as one of the most challenging I have ever undertaken. We have had countless shining moments of laughter and a true sensation of unity, as a real family. The good moments have been countered by just as many frustrating and aggravating moments as every one of us has struggled to transition into our new home, roles, family system, and way of life.

Each member of our family has had to adopt a new identity and new relationships, all while mending our individual brokenness from the divorces that opened the door for all of us to be together.

We had a common home, a common schedule, rules, and a culture; but, we lacked in a heartfelt glue that could bind us together. We needed a common bond that would unite all of us in an emotional way. We needed something we could all care about and be invested in as a new family.

I decided that a pet might be our answer, and decided to adopt a pair of female guinea pigs. We decided against a more conventional dog or cat because we are gone so much during the day that we felt it would be unfair to the animal. I started constructing an enclosure for them from a large cabinet we already owned.

Week-by-week the children’s anticipation grew as they saw a two-story cavy palace take shape, complete with a ramp, two eating stations, and ample room to sleep and play. We researched the perfect guinea pig diet and even planted cucumbers, lettuce, carrots, and peppers in our garden to supplement their menu. We watched videos and read books together to learn about grooming and care so that we would be prepared to be ideal caregivers.

Our furry family members joined us a year ago, and since then we have made leaps in our blending process because these two little guinea pigs have become the shared focus of everyone in our home! The kids spend endless hours playing with them, taking care of them, sharing stories and updates about them, and taking turns completing daily care tasks like feeding and cleaning their cage.

Phoebe and Bianca are the first thing everyone wants to see when they return home from visiting their other parents, and they are the subject of phone calls when the kids are away from home. The kids collaborate to plan birthday and holiday celebrations for our pets, to make improvements to their living area, and they are a large part of the identity of our home, as well as a leading reason why the kids look forward to being here.

While my children and stepchildren may have loving family members, toys, and even pets in their other homes, our pets are the heart of our home, and have been a key ingredient in fostering stronger relationships between the members of our family and an agent of healing to children in various stages of healing and development.

A pet is a tender and loving companion who will listen without judgment or bring a smile to an otherwise gloomy day. An animal companion may be just what you need to help put together the pieces of a broken heart after divorce or serve as a blended family mascot to promote unity. I certainly believe that the addition of pets to my home was just what we needed to push our efforts as a stepfamily to the next level!

 

Audrey Cade is the author of ” Divorce Matters: help for hurting hearts and why divorce is sometimes the best decision ” and the matriarch of a blended family of eight. She is an experienced “divorce warrior” in the areas of co-parenting, step-parenting, parental alienation, and re-marriage, and enjoys sharing these experiences with others who are also committed to raising happy and healthy kids. Audrey’s professional experience is as a case manager social worker with the developmentally disabled, families with young children, and homeless populations. She holds degrees in Early Childhood Education, Human Service & Management, and a Master’s in Psychology.