Divorce is finalized, papers are filed and put away. You have moved on and have been dating someone for a few months now. He is simply wonderful as is the horse he rode in on.
He is kind, gentle and above all he is wonderful with your kids. He buys them cute electronic games and apps at the drop of a hat (even though you ask him not to it secretly adds to his step-daddy points). When your son comes home defeated from a little league game this potential “step-dad” knows all the right things to say to get your little sluggers chin back up and back in the game.
When your young daughter wants “uppy” and you just can’t carry her anymore your “family man” offers his broad shoulders for her to be carried on. You smile as you gaze up at her riding the broad shoulders of the man you are tying the knot with.
It’s Sunday afternoon and he has decided to bring his daughter over to your house. She is a lovely little girl who enjoys the company of your children. They laugh and play and don’t fight over the WII. You have planned a perfect picnic lunch at the park on this sunny Sunday afternoon. Your picture is as perfect as a Norman Rockwell painting.
Sounds wonderful right? A dream come true as you and the new husband watch the children frolic and play while you feed each other tea sandwiches.
Ahhh… Blended families do work- or do they?
On paper, blended families sound too good to be true. Children magically getting along, enjoying baseball games, making loom bracelets and watching shows on Nickelodeon together. There are no squabbles about seating arrangments, food preferences or who gets to stay up later. This magical blended family lives on the corner of love and harmony and swims in the sea of courtesy and humbleness.
Unfortunately, we don’t live on paper and the challenges of a blended family usually land us in the ditch of jealousy and resentment, tears and slamming doors. (Let’s not forget the phone calls from the ex explaining how she does things).
Someone asked me to sum up my experience of the blended family and what I would do differently. I am usually so caught up “doing life” that this allowed me the chance to reflect.
As I recalled some of my experiences with my “blended family” the word replacement kept coming up. I wish someone had mentored me or made sure I understood that the man I was about to marry was in no uncertain terms replacing my children’s father. I realize now that I still harbored feelings of anger, rage, and disappointment toward my former husband; my children’s father. I found myself comparing daddy behaviors of husband one and two and that judgemental attitude trickled down (as it usually does) to my very vulnerable children.
In hindsight, I never should have compared. I wasn’t replacing my children’s father. He was still very active and present in their lives. Sure, there were things we disagreed on (bedtimes, snack choices, etc.) but he was still their dad. I wish I made that more clear rather than focusing on the “new role model” in their lives.
Being, the “new parent” on the block is not always a pleasant place to be. It is a windy road to travel. There is always the desire to do right by the child you are trying to please and at times win over. However, when the time comes for a touch of discipline or the word no– watch out!
Jealousy often plays a part in the blended family. Too much attention paid to the “other children” might trigger some nasty behavior. I remember my “step daughter” pinching my then four-year-old daughter’s leg till it was deep red because I allowed her to listen to Barney the Dinosaur just one more time. I told my stepdaughter to use her words. “We don’t hurt each other by hitting or kicking or pinching,” I explained.
After she denied touching my daughter (as her leg bruised) she began crying for her mother and assured me that I would never replace her mother. Her dad (my new husband) had to pull off the road and do some kid repair. It soon felt like a “them against us situation” and we eventually continued our drive in silence. ( I took off the Barney CD).
My new husband suggested that I might have been too tough on his daughter during this adjustment time. I immediately became very defensive and protective which only made matters worse. We were now on two sides of the fence. Too tough? I was not going to allow his bratty daughter to physically abuse my little angel.
And so, it began. There was a divide. A distinct separation between the two families. And at that moment I realized that as much as I wanted us to be one family, it wasn’t ever going to be like dinner at the Walton’s table. We were two different families trying to find a way to maneuver the waters of divorce and the aftermath.
I wasn’t her “real mom” and he wasn’t their “real dad.” We were, however, two people who chose to create a life together and were going to have to find a way to make it work.
All I can say is step lightly. No one is replaceable. No one is replacing your child’s mommy or daddy. It is a new situation and a very delicate one at that. Although we left marriages due to unbearable circumstances, our exes are still parents to our kids. Our kids have a different relationship with them than we do. And yes, we may think they are horrible examples of parenting, but none the less they remain parents.
My older children (19, 17) have a wonderful relationship with all parents now. It’s their relationship, not mine and for that I am grateful.