It’s a surprising source of inspiration by any measure: The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.
Although I don’t tune in every week, I caught an episode recently in which Yolanda Foster throws a party for her daughter Gigi, and she does so with Gigi’s father, who is her ex. Surprise, surprise – not only is the party extravagant and spectacular, but the ex-spouses (who appear to be friends) greet each other with warmth and comfort, as do their spouses / significant others.
In fact, as toasts are made at the party, the teenage Gigi, who is leaving for college at the time of the episode, gives a heartfelt and teary thank you to her mother, her father, and her step-father, as she tells them how much she loves them and feels fortunate to have not one great father, but two.
Happy Step-Families: Impossible Dream?
Is establishing a stable and happy step-family the impossible dream? Why is it achievable for some divorced moms and dads, but not others?
As a divorced mother, the sort of amicable intermixing of current or legally “ex” family is something I once aspired to. At least, I hoped that eventually my ex and I would come to some sort of truce and stability such that the animosity would dissipate once and for all, new relationships would be forged, and somehow, we would all get along.
Say hello to Magical Thinking.
Of course, some of us can introduce the “current” to the ex and expect that things will go without incident. Others have no current, though the ex may have gone on to another life while we’re entirely focused on getting through the day, the week, the month, the school year – year after year – as the last thing on the priority list is anything more than the occasional short-lived relationship. Remarriage? It’s hard to conceive of, much less successfully blending families.
And yet, when two parents play by the rules (showing up when they’re supposed to, following through on responsibilities – both legal and moral), when two parents want to model something welcoming and comfortable for their children, I believe they can.
Looking back at my own experience over a decade, it’s impossible to imagine ex-spouses of this sort – more than acrimonious, more than civil when required, more than co-parenting politely but truly, generously keeping the best interests of the children in mind.
How Do You Manage a Happy Blended Family?
As I think of the episode of RHOBH that I saw and consider the lifestyles of those involved, it’s only natural that I note that most of us don’t live within chauffeur distance of Rodeo Drive, tucking our kiddos into bed in 10,000 square foot homes, and calling on household staff for our morning coffee not to mention an assist with picking up our girls at soccer practice or our boys at their music lessons.
If we are warring over money, it isn’t tens of thousands of dollars in child support but rather, making sure that the ex’s fair share of the expense of orthodontia shows up, or for that matter – the food on the table and our children’s school supplies.
I know nothing of the backstory when it comes to the Fosters, except that none of the individuals involved are American by birth, and to the best of my knowledge they are all self-made. Does that somehow make a difference? Has the number of years since their divorce played into where they find themselves today? What about the fact that both are happily recoupled?
I can’t help but compare to another “reality” couple on the same show – Kelsey Grammer and now ex-wife Camille. That very public celebrity break-up and divorce played out quite differently. Is it a matter of the individuals involved and the circumstances of the split?
Certainly, what comprises a “happy” blended family in which children are raised well will vary from situation to situation. But I can only imagine that in all cases, fairness, respect, and civility are maintained because all are part of a better way to live – at least for most of us.
Yet I wonder what else it takes – character, courage, exceptional empathy – in order to raise children who are able to say they’re lucky to feel so loved by two sets of parents, and not just one.