Blended Family Situations and Helps
His and Hers
My Blended Family
When my dear second husband and I married there was very little help, books, or even acknowledgement out there. We felt adrift in a sea of nuclear families with no one to go to with our unique problems. We managed to maneuver through the challenges by making a ton of mistakes, but living through them. Today is much better for blended families because there are slues of books, websites, blogs, counselors, pastors, and general knowledge for the struggling blended family to turn.
My husband had two children, a boy and girl, from a previous marriage and I had two girls from a previous marriage. They were ages 6, 7, 8 and 9, when we married. Our problems were nearly immediate. My oldest girl was angry for years. She had moments of happiness, when she actually enjoyed an event or holiday with all of us, to be closely followed by a week or two of acting up. It was as if she felt guilty for having fun.
All Seemed Happy At First
The middle two, my youngest and his oldest, were very compliant and easy-going most of the time. From time to time the oldest made them feel bad about being so accepting, but they both managed to fit in well in the new family order.
The youngest had a number of social and behavioral problems but was mostly happy to be one of the family. However, she and the oldest clashed constantly. I’m not sure why that dynamic was so volatile but it was.
On top of being a blended family, we were also a multi-racial family. If things weren’t hard enough before, the extra dynamic made it harder but not impossible. We were determined not to experience another divorce. Murder, maybe; but no divorce. (That’s a joke.) I think that is part of what it takes to make a second-chance marriage work. You must determine not to use the “D” word at all. Not an option! The most important thing that kept us together was our mutual faith in God and our consistent pray time together.
How would you feel about strangers children calling you Grandma or Grandpa?
Absent Parent Dynamic
Just as every individual is different, every family and divorce is different. What will work well with one absent parent, may not work at all for the next one. While some are very accepting of the new marriage and stepsibling dynamic for their child’s sake, some are totally against the new marriage and “subjecting” their child to having to live with some stranger’s children. You will have to work out the best means possible to continue regular visits with your child’s absent parent. I think this inequality may be the hardest to explain to children. While my stepchildren’s mother lavished her children gifts, my ex did not do the same for his children. They often looked at all the things that their stepsiblings brought home from visits with their mother and couldn’t help but feel jealous. The stepkids were wonderful in their generosity, often sharing or giving things to my girls. This made my oldest even angrier. She was angry at her father’s inattention but could only take that anger out on those of us who were there with her. This is so typical. Remember that children are not really rational people; not yet. They are filled with emotion and sometimes cannot process that emotion well. Again, my best recourse was to take the oldest out and help her to process what she was feeling and why.
My dear husband and I found that the biggest no-no for blended families is the one most often indulged in. Blaming the absent parent for past failure or present concerns in front of the children. It makes sense that the children still love and want to honor their absent parent. In their minds, they are at least on half that parent. What you never want to do is talk bad about the absent parent to or in front of the children. This causes a conflict of emotions within the child, which eventually they will have to decide on aside. Making them take sides is immature and wrong. My ex beat me for 4 years 2 months and 28 days till I grabbed the girls and ran away. When my oldest was about 12, she wanted to know what broke up the marriage with her father and I mistakenly thought she was old enough to understand. Also, I thought the truth was more valuable/important than a lie. A lie would have been much better for her to hear and process because she simply could not take in the truth. She later asked her father if it was true and he said I was a liar. It was easier for her to believe that I lied than to believe he was capable of the things I said he had done. He later showed his true colors but it would have been better for her to find out that way than the way I told her. There were many hurtful years were she disparaged and distrusted me over that one incident. Again, you know your child better than anyone and every family is different. However, I have found that the less negativity you say about their absent parent in front of them, the better.
These are just a few of the dynamics that come into play in a blended family. Believe me, we all make mistakes. It helps to go to your child and apologize when you know you handled something badly and let them know you don’t intend to do that again. This is very freeing to a child. It allows them to feel that it’s okay to be human. It’s okay for them to make a mistake: even mom or dad makes mistakes. Also, it shows your child that you are willing to say you’re sorry. Children are very forgiving and willing to give allowances when they know you are on their side. I also liked to let them know that this blended family-thing is as new to me as it was to them. I don’t have all the answers but I’m trying to do my best. In the end, we can ask no more of our children or ourselves.
One of the key things to remember, whether you are having trouble with your ex, your spouse’s ex, or your stepchildren, is that none of this will last forever. Only your marriage is to last. Never do anything that will compromise your marriage. The kids will grow up and move away, go to college, get married, have a family of their own and the exs will not need to be seen by you again except at key events like weddings and funerals. This means that you need always to work on keeping your marriage important.
My husband is my best friend. We rallied around each other when hard times came and we survived, although there were times when I just wasn’t so sure. He has my back and I have his. Today our relationship is stronger than ever and I’m so glad we made it through those tough years when the kids' absent parents were harassing and sabotaging us as a family. Stay strong.