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Hi BFSO Readers!
Just wanted to let you know that we’re settling in at our new virtual home! Come on over, take a look around and tell us what you think. Our new address is http://www.blendedfamilysoapopera.com. I’m hoping that you’ll still be able to reach us via this address, but I’m not certain that you’ll be able to. So, don’t forget to take note of our new address. Oh, and for all of my favorite bloggers who have us listed as one of their favorites, please change our address in your blogroll to http://www.blendedfamilysoapopera.com! It’s http://www.blendedfamilysoapopera.com – it’s still us, still insightful information, just a different look. We’ll see you there!
I pray that you’ve all been well and your families are still intact! I’ve been busy trying to be a better advocate for this cause that I unknowingly got myself into…the blended family. I’ve been researching, talking to other blended family members, psychologists and attorneys, and preparing for classes to become a certified blended family counselor. As such, BFSO will be flooded with more posts on how we can either better our blended families, or just accept our current reality while not allowing it to tamper with our immediate families. Until then, since BFSO is only 5 posts away from our 50th post (YAY), I wanted to leave you with 50 things about me. I got this idea from another blog that I frequently visit called A Stepmother’s Say, by the way. At any rate, I have certainly appreciated all the insight, advice, general comments and overall dialogue from all of you readers since starting this blog. It is a response that I never expected, but it has literally been lifechanging! Don’t forget to keep dialoguing about this topic as it is the only way that we can attempt to understand the complex dynamics of the blended family. Dialogue Promotes Change!
- I voted for Barack Obama.
- I have one bio son and one stepson.
- I have a pretty good relationship with my ex’s new wife.
- I love my husband dearly.
- My bio son is a straight A student!
- I have a bachelor’s degree in communication studies.
- I’m obtaining a Master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy.
- I used to work as a Senior Manager of a marketing firm.
- I write for local publications on the topic of blended families.
- I am a five time pageant winner.
- My favorite color is green.
- I don’t have any girls so I spoil my two beautiful nieces, rotten.
- I’m a pretty laid back, nonchalant individual.
- I have a pretty good relationship with my ex, although it hasn’t always been that way.
- I went to law school.
- I didn’t like it!
- I want a vacation home in Mexico.
- My husband and I were married in Mexico.
- I LOVE to see ex and second wives work out their differences or at least attempt to.
- Still, I am realistic and know that it isn’t always possible.
- My husband and I don’t have any children together, yet.
- I love to read.
- I love to write.
- I love to help others.
- I have NO problem embracing my ex’s new son. After all, he’s my son’s little brother.
- I am so not a jealous person, almost to a fault.
- I’m a jeans and tee shirt kind of girl.
- I’m 5’7 and about 122 pounds.
- I LOVE reading the comments from BFSO readers; both good and bad.
- I have one brother.
- My father is deceased, but he was a WONDERFUL father!
- My mother is a very strong woman.
- I love sushi.
- I love fruit, especially apples and peanut butter…yum yum.
- I can’t escape basketball.
- My ex is an overseas professional basketball player.
- My husband played high school and college basketball.
- My father -in-law is a former NBA basketball player.
- I grew up in a two parent household.
- I like to skate.
- I like pilates.
- I have a huge sweet tooth.
- Chocolate cake is one of my favorites.
- I’m learning how to cook.
- I have a beautiful black labrador retriever named Zane.
- My parents were married nearly 30 years before my father’s death.
- I love turkey burgers!
- I try to make it to church every Sunday.
- I don’t get easily frustrated.
- I believe in telling the truth…no sugarcoating!
Maintaining Your Blended Family Marriage
Did you know that the divorce rate among second marriages is higher than that among first marriages? One would assume that if a person has a second chance, he or she would be sure not to mess it up. However, there are some second marriages that breakdown under financial strain; second marriages that are torn apart by children; and second marriages that never had a chance to begin with. Then, there are those that actually do survive and eventually thrive despite the chaotic world of the blended family. These couples work through their communication issues in order to create a marriage that is more solid than their first.
In order for your second marriage to work I believe it’s essential to consider what went wrong in your first. Many times divorcees will get on their “high horse” by insisting that their marital problems were soley their ex’s fault. However, there is hardly a divorce where fault falls exclusively on one person. Because far more challenges will present themselves in your second marriage (children, unresolved feelings, bitter ex’s, etc.), it is necessary to examine your own mistakes in the past so that you are less likely to repeat them in the future.
Nurturing Your Second Marriage
It is so very important to nurture your second marriage!!! Often times remarried couples make themselves the LAST priority by putting the problems with their respective children, exes, finances…first. Remarried couples need to spend time nurturing and building their relationship together just as any “traditional” marriage, without children, would. Schedule date nights together, and take vacations without the children, sometimes. Take every moment that you can to remember and remind each other of why you fell in love in the first place. Remember, that when the children are grown and gone, and there are no more exes to fight with, you will be left with each other. You can not grow old with your children or problems with your former spouse. As such, you shouldn’t spend ALL of your time in these areas. Of course, you have to raise, love and nurture your children. And, you have to work on resolving your issues with your former spouse so that you can co-parent effectively. But, these areas can’t take priority over your marriage. Any good marriage needs to be nurtured and loved if it’s expected to survive. Besides, taking these actions will only benefit your children because you will be building a strong, stable, loving environment in the process.
My husband and I made the mistake of putting everything before our marriage, and honestly, it almost FAILED!! At several points in our relationship we were both ready to throw in the towel. The stress of both of our children not immediately adjusting (this is a unrealistic expectation that most remarried couples have) along with dealing with the exes, almost tore our marriage apart. All of our communication, and I mean literally ALL of it, centered around the kids, his ex or my ex. Naturally, it just wasn’t good for our relationship. We didn’t put as much effort or time into our relationship as we did those other things, and it showed. We realized this one day on a rare occasion when both of our children were gone. Not only did we not know what to do with ourselves, but we began talking about…problems with the children and/or the exes. It wasn’t until my husband said, “We spend way too much time talking about our problems, let’s talk about something else.” The only problem was that we literally did not know what else to talk about. At that point, we had our light bulb moment…ding, ding, ding…WE HAD BEEN SERIOUSLY NEGLECTING OUR MARRIAGE AND THAT’S WHY WE HAD BEEN HAVING SO MANY PROBLEMS, duh!! From then on, we decided to rediscover why we fell in the love in the first place. We scheduled date nights together, even if the kids were in the house. They were not allowed to bother us during our special time. We created a standing rule that we would only talk about our problems with the exes and children if absolutely necessary. We decided that WE are the king and queen of our household, and we would ALWAYS respect each other as such; even when it came to our respective exes. Once we set this foundation our communication issues were a lot smaller than they really were.
Second time newlyweds often bring their own financial resources and obligations into their second marriages; making finances a touchy subject in second marriages. Ideally, it is always best if the couple combines everything together instead of creating the definitive boundaries of yours, mine and ours. Once you do that, you begin to see everything as yours, mine and ours; your children vs. my children; your money vs. my money; I’ll pay for this for my children vs. you pay for this for your children, and we’ll pay for this for our children. As you can see, it becomes way too complicated. As such, it is always best if you view your newly made family as a whole instead of in parts. Having said that, when it comes to each child’s respective child support; that money should be earmarked for that child, alone. For example, we do not use M’s child support money on K. M’s child support money is for taking care of his needs. Just like M never uses K’s child support money. But, the money that my husband and I make is for taking care of everybody in our household. So, when we go on vacation I don’t only pay for my child and my husband only pays for his. It is the same when we go out to dinner or buy Christmas gifts, etc.
It is important to remember that whenever one marries or remarries he or she does so in entirety, not in parts. As such, whenever possible, the remarried couple should view themselves and their family as a single unit instead of divided. It should never be a yours, mine and ours…just ours; our marriage, our children, our money, our family.
I’ve talked a lot about the importance of maintaining healthy post-divorce relationships; not only with your children, but with each other. I firmly believe that children DESERVE parents who get along or at least make every effort to. As a result, I’ve been getting tons of emails from readers who claim to know the benefit of peacefully coexisting in order to co-parent effectively, but “the how” is what they lack the knowledge in. My answer is simple – JUST DO IT! You don’t have to be best friends or even friends; you just have to be civil for the sake of your children. Put your anger [of the past] away and concentrate on doing what’s best for your children instead of doing whatever gives you temporary satisfaction. Some of those same readers seem to be confused about the meaning of the word civil. Civil is not “mean mugging” each other during drop off and pick up. It’s not subtly bad-mouthing each other. And, it’s not communicating via morse code just to avoid actually speaking to each other. Get over yourself and be selfless enough to actually be civil, especially in front of your children. Be polite and learn to bite your tongue. Say hello, how are you and use the basic manners that you learned at age 5. These are things that you do every single day. Do you curse your boss out every time he or she makes you angry? What about the waitress at your favorite restaurant? Do you fly off the handle if she messes up your order? Probably not. So, I know that you can control your urge to slap your ex upside the head, too. It really is that simple. It might not be easy to do, but it’s that simple.
Before I get those comments saying “my ex is bipolar” or “my ex is an alcoholic”; let me assure you that I am not talking about those situations. I know it is difficult, sometimes impossible, to maintain a healthy relationship with these types of individuals. However, it is possible to disengage yourself from the battle. You don’t have to fight even if your ex is fighting with you.
Rule #1: Pick your battles! Life is just too short to stew over the past or fight about every little thing.
My brother taught me that sometimes it’s best to just say nothing at all. He used to burn me up when I would get so angry with him, and he would act like I wasn’t even there. But, eventually I would just move on because it’s hard to fight with someone that isn’t fighting back. In the end, you just end up looking stupid and no one wants to look stupid. Sometimes you just have to see it as that other person’s issue and move on! Let go of the past hurt for it’s the only way that you can move on. If you often find yourself consumed by anger, then you need to get some help! It’s never too late to do so. Only “fight” when you have to and don’t actually fight. Instead just communicate your concerns to your ex-spouse; which brings me to rule #2.
Rule #2: Voice your concerns to your ex-spouse!
Don’t automatically be ready to “go off.” Instead, just talk to him or her about your concerns. For example, I recently had an issue with my ex, and I must admit that I was ready to “go off.” I even contacted a lawyer; preparing to take his butt right back to court (yes, even I slip up at times). It’s completely natural to be overwhelmed with anger when someone pisses you off, especially your ex. After all, you’re divorced for a reason, right? But, I caught myself before bringing the matter to him in such a volatile and attacking way. I first led with a positive by telling him that I truly appreciate him being so open and willing to communicate with me about issues regarding our son. Then, I expressed my concern. He, of course, countered my concern, but I did the same to his. We had a disagreement and it’s probably going to happen a thousand times over because that’s what people do sometimes – disagree. It’s okay, so expect it. It’s how you handle those disagreements that matter. In the end, my ex and I talked it out and we worked it out; without fighting.
Rule #3: Practice basic manners.
Your children don’t need parents who can’t even say hi to each other when in the same room. Remember, although your involvement with your ex-spouse in regards to setting up visitation and child support will diminish when your children are grown; it doesn’t mean that you two will never encounter each other again. You’ll be at your child’s wedding. You’ll be there for the birth of your grandchildren. You’ll be there at college graduations. You will be there, together, with and for your child, so you better practice on being polite now. You don’t want to ruin those moments and memories [with unnecessary tension] for your child because you can’t be civil towards each other. So, the next time you see your ex-spouse forget about the tension and focus on just being polite. You don’t have to invite them to dinner or anything; or even invite him or her in your house. Just take baby steps and do the following:
- Say hello the next time you see your ex-spouse
- Ask how he or she is doing
- Greet him or her with a smile
- Tell him or her to have fun with your children
- Treat him or her as you would anybody else that you are trying to be polite to
Rule #4: Don’t bad-mouth your ex-spouse’s new spouse.
If you have a concern about your ex-spouse’s new spouse, don’t bad-mouth her to your ex. Remember, that she is your ex’s new spouse. As such, it will be in his nature to defend her. Therefore, you will be starting the conversation off on the wrong foot. Additionally, when your children acquire new relatives, via marriage or otherwise, it’s important to acknowledge and respect these relationships instead of dismissing them. Acknowledge, respect and encourage your children’s relationships with their step or half siblings, step-grandparents, step-aunts and uncles, cousins, etc. Remember, that society brainwashes us to believe that family can only consist of blood lines and a two biological parent household, but the dynamics of family are changing and have been changing for quite some time. Your children’s step-family is just as much family as their biological family and should be treated as such. As a matter of fact, children can only benefit from having a large loving family comprised of step, half and biological, than a two parent household without love.
Learning to act like adult parents is not as hard as it may initially feel. Once again, you have to revert back to the days of old when you first learned basic manners and being polite. Think before you speak or act. Let go of that residual anger that does nothing for you or your children. As a matter of fact, it only prevents you from moving forward and improving your life as well as the lives of your children. You may have every right to be angry [in some cases], but it serves no purpose to hang on to that hurt. Hanging on to hurt only hurts your children. Let it go so that you can create a healthy family unit for your children. After all, with over half of marriages ending in divorce the best thing we can do for our children is to make sure that they are raised in healthy families, regardless of their parents’ marital status.
Divorced parents argue, agonize and litigate constantly, over how much time their children will spend with each of them. As these parents are held captive by complicated calendars and negotiate [fight] about parenting time, it has become more and more apparent to me, that the battles are really power struggles due to fear of losing relationships with their children. Their concern is seemingly more about their interests rather than about their childrens’ best interest. Through it all, no one bothers to ask the children exactly how they feel and how it affects them. Parents either assume that their children will adjust, unaffected or are too wrapped up in “sticking it” to the other parent that they simply don’t care. Through informal interviews with children and adults of divorce and blended families as well as a research study done by Dr. Constance Ahrons, author of The Good Divorce, the inconsistency regarding what mattered to the children and what mattered to the parents was amazing. As such, I thought it would be interesting to share with you what the children want you to know.
As you may know, the opinions of children are often overlooked as it pertains to divorce, so they had a lot to say. As a result, I decided to create a series of articles regarding what the children want you to know. The first will be what the children want you to know about living arrangements and parenting time.
What the children want you to know about living arrangements and parenting time
Deciding living arrangements and parenting time after a divorce is just about as painful as contemplating the divorce itself. It’s extremely overwhelming when trying to agree on what’s in the best interest of your children post-divorce. Parents become engrossed by rigid schedules which calculate their respective time with their children to the exact second. They want to be sure that they aren’t being cheated out of their parental rights. Most mothers don’t want their babies bouncing back and forth like a ping pong ball between households. They assume that by having their children spend the majority of time with them that they are creating stable households in an already chaotic world for their children. Fathers, on the other hand, desire to remain in contact and involved the way they were prior to the divorce, and feel that having equal time between both parents will allow their children to retain their relationships with each parent. Hopefully, by listening to these children, parents will be able to figure out the most favorable living and parenting time situation for their children.
The results from my study (20 children and adults who are products of divorce/blended families) and Dr. Constance Ahrons study (173 grown children of divorce and blended families) were consistent. All of them expressed that they would have liked to have their needs considered more. Some noted what really upset them, even more than the going back and forth, was the constant fighting over which one had more time. It truly made them feel as if it really wasn’t about spending time with them at all. Instead, it felt like they were more interested in punishing each other. Additionally, they said that they wanted to be able to maintain meaningful relationships with BOTH parents. When one parent limited contact with the other, for whatever reason, it made them feel as if they were losing that parent. It almost felt like a death, to them. They not only lost their family, but they lost a parent as well. All they want is to be able to continue their lives with as little stress and interruption as possible, and suddenly losing a relationship with a parent IS STRESSFUL!
These children also want you to know that transitioning from house to house IS HARD! To them, it feels like they have to deal with change over which they have no control. They want to have their needs considered. For example, older children (12 and up) desire flexibility in the parenting time schedule. Feeling tied to a strict schedule is annoying and unfair. Smaller children want to be reassured that things will be okay. They feel frightened, left out and confused.
When parents are in conflict
When parents are in conflict, children said that they NEVER look forward to going back and forth. They detest being grilled by either parent about what’s going on in the other household. They also despise their parents bad-mouthing the other, putting them in the difficult position of having to choose sides. These children expressed that their parents can reduce stress by at least minimally cooperating and leaving them out of grown up issues. This group also declared that they are smarter than what we give them credit for. Even the parents who are gritting their teeth to operate in what they think is a civil manner, their children still feel a great deal of hostility.
My husband and his ex-wife are a great example of this. I once reached out to her asking if we could sit down and resolve our issues because she clearly had and has a major problem with me. Her response was that she didn’t wish to disrupt the level of calm and civility in K’s (stepson) life at this time. To her, things were calm and K was properly adjusting because nobody was literally tearing each other apart when in the same room. She didn’t take into account that visitation drop-off and pick-up occurs in front of a police station where they each stand on opposite sides of the street, while not even making eye contact with each other and delivering handwritten notes via K. But, even K and M (my son) could tell that there was a problem; which was why I tried to reach out to her. Often times K and M (at 6 and 7 years old) would debate about how much K’s parents (my husband and his ex-wife) HATED each other, and they used that specific word. So, parents just because you aren’t yelling and arguing back and forth at each other doesn’t mean that your children don’t pick up on the obvious tension.
When parents get along
About one fourth of the entire group noted how beneficial it was to have their parents cooperate with and even like each other! They appreciate their parents talking to each other, in a friendly manner, instead of passing notes via the kids. Having parents who get along helps ease the transition between households; it helps to normalize their dsyfunctional family. They expressed a feeling of security and were less worried about the changes of divorce. These children felt like they adjusted faster and didn’t dwell on their parents being back together again.
In my case, my ex and I cooperate with each other and communicate our disagreements pretty well. I will not say that we agree on everything, but we make every effort to hear the other out, work out an optimal compromise and don’t involve our son. We definitely put his needs above our own interests. We remain flexible with our parenting time schedule and he has unlimited access to either parent in our respective households. Drop off and pick up occurs at our respective homes, and we always have a friendly conversation at those times. As a matter of fact, all of us (me, my husband, my ex and his wife) are friendly with one another. Our son has taken notice of this as well. When he was 6 years old (during that same conversation that he had with my stepson about his parents hating each other) he said that his mommy and daddy liked each other. I asked him how he could tell and he replied, “Because every time you each other, you smile and give each other a hug.” Recently, I asked him if he ever wanted his biological parents to be back together again; and he responded with an emphatic no! He said that he is happy with the way his family is and he wouldn’t change a thing.
What is evident is that regardless of parenting time and living arrangements, children hate being put in the middle. They want their parents to consider their feelings more and work together to resolve conflict that makes an already stressful situation even more stressful. Most importantly, these children want the opportunity to maintain stable and meaningful relationship with BOTH parents. They’ve already lost their family; they don’t desire to lose a parent, too.
Interesting Fact: Children whose parents were constantly in conflict after the divorce grew up to have trust and commitment issues in their own relationships. Almost all of them blamed the divorce on these issues. However, children whose parents cooperated, got along, and encouraged contact and relationships with either parent grew up to embrace family and seemingly adjusted better than the other children post-divorce.