Nobody says, “When I grow up, I want to get divorced.”
Yet it happens. Whether divorce is a welcome escape hatch, in light of “The Three A’s” –adultery, addiction, or abuse; or whether divorce is a lame excuse, in light of “The Three S’s” –selfishness, stupidity, and senselessness, it’s never pleasant.
If you talk to any divorced person, they’ll tell you that the endless stream of unpleasant, ongoing consequences of divorce took them by surprise. And there isn’t really any such thing as divorce– most people have to be sort of connected to the very past that they wanted to break with because of custody, financial obligations, mental health of the kids, etc. I think there is no such thing as divorce, if you have children with your ex-spouse; there is only a refiguring of roles. You co-parent forever. So it helps to be civil.
I listened to Dr. Laura Schlessinger a lot, both before and after my divorce. She advised listeners never to remarry if there were children in the home, citing statistics about stepparent abuse and stepchild misery that made me want to cry. Yet I knew that there were exceptions to that sad rule. There were good step parent-step child relationships out there.
When I dated as a single mom, it was more like a job interview than a carefree date. I needed to know who these men really were. I needed to know how child-friendly they were. I stopped dating men when the radar went off in my head that “this one isn’t really into kids.”
And I found my husband.
We’ve been married now for four years. We have his, mine, and ours. But unlike “The Brady Bunch” –our family is complicated. In a good way, mostly.
On our piano, you’ll see six framed photos of beautiful children, ranging from 19 to 1.
My husband’s are the nineteen year old son, the twelve year old daughter, and a daughter who died as a toddler, who would have been seventeen if she were here today. These three photos stand next to the photo of the one-year-old son we have together, and next come my 2 kids: a fourteen year old daughter and an eight year old son. Six beautiful, loved, adored kids.
But do I set the table for eight? Not often. Maybe at Christmas, maybe for a few weeks in the summertime, if I’m lucky. But most blended families today are blending at least two different sets of parents with the kids. You don’t just get more kids; you get to share kids with other couples that you may or may not even like or respect.
You have to take turns having the kids at Christmastime, Halloween, birthdays and summer vacations. Some kids live out of state, and only come during the summer or for Christmas. Some kids are gone, visiting their dad, every other weekend. One of our kids passed away, so we talk about her, but we don’t get to set the table for her. Some lucky dinners are for eight; often, it’s set for five; many weekends, it’s just my husband, the baby, and me.
The top secret to a successful blended family is flexibility. It’s right up there, tied with love, for number one important qualities to apply for a successful blending.
You can’t cry, manipulate and try to force things, really, in any family, but it’s even less effective in a blended family. (This applies, even if you are one of the adults!)
A hard adjustment for me was learning not to be too sentimental about holidays. I had to detach a little. And I had to open my heart to the new people in the family, and act like there was love, and hope for the love to come, and then —voila– one day I realized that it was really there, and not just as an act of politeness any more.
If you can be flexible, open minded, hopeful, structured, and loving, you can have a successful blended family.