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This book is the result of our efforts to understand, chronicle and then explain the experiences we had in putting together a family that began as diverse people from different backgrounds...Divorce does not bring out the best in people, and the effect on the children is long-lasting. There is no reason though why you and they can not become involved in a process to help repair some of that damage. Developing a working blended family is one way to help that process happen. This book is neither a cookbook nor a do-it-yourself manual of step-by-step instructions on what should or should not be done. Hopefully though, you will get some new ideas, realise the consequences of different behaviours that you may have tried, and know that many other people have made even worse mistakes, but been able to work things out.
2008 144 pages
1. WHY WE DECIDED TO WRITE THIS BOOK
“Last Sunday night we went to the restaurant he chose. Give one of the other kids a chance to pick one this time instead of letting him always decide or threatening not to go if he doesn’t get his way. He is self-centered, and you spoil him, always favor him, and give in to what he wants, even though it’s not fair to everyone else.” – George
“You are always picking on him for some reason. It’s not such a big deal, and the other kids don’t seem to mind, so let’s just go, and get it done with.” – Donna
When we first got together Donna and I had each been married before, and both of us had kids. She had a 13 year old daughter, Susan, and a 9-year-old son, Barry, and I had a 13 year old son, Frank, who lived out of state with his mother, but came for the usual visitation. Every Sunday we would go out for dinner, and ask the children where they wanted to go. Two of them always wanted to go to one place, and the third somewhere else. Very quickly the conversation degenerated into an argument about how that child was either favored by our new spouse, or had the bad qualities of their ex. We were not married long when we had two more children, both boys who are just less than a year apart. Soon, the three big kids were off in college, and every Sunday night we still would go out to dinner, and ask those two children where they wanted to go. They also couldn’t agree, and the conversation again degenerated into why one wouldn’t go along, or how one parent favored one or the other and why. One day it hit us that we were dealing with the same issue as before, the importance of each child’s need to feel “special” and listened to, not where we ate. That started us thinking about all the other issues that we had been through in raising five children in a blended family, and ultimately led to this book.
Trying to explain our family to outsiders with all the “step” “half” and “real” labels is just plain awkward and perplexing, but we are not alone. The reality of the 21st century family involves divorce and second, third and even fourth marriages, with the kids often being the only remaining link to those previous relationships. The children often are the parent’s memento to their own chaotic past, and step-parents can be the child’s painful reminder of the parent they no longer live with.
Parents and children must overcome many difficult and destructive emotions in order to move forward in life, and enjoy success. As parents, we are the initiators of what is first a gathering of people from different families to facilitate them developing into a single, cohesive family unit.
While we were dealing with the intricacies of building a ‘blended or joined family” Donna and I lacked a guide, or even good advice. We tried talking to friends in similar situations, but most of them looked and sounded like the “walking wounded”. They were people who had achieved economic success and solid reputations in the community, but admitted that they had struggled to build a blended family, were often depressed about what had happened, or disliked talking about children from their first marriage. We heard stories of kids turning to drugs, dropping out of college, or those who were still lost in their 20’s and 30’s as a result of their parent’s divorce. Sadly, a few parents had even given up, or “written” off the children from their earlier marriages. Too many times, we heard “no matter what you do the kids will never be happy.” The few success stories we found came without explanation, or the rare response, “I don’t know why we’ve been so fortunate, we were just lucky.”
The closest thing we received to insight if not advice came from a friend who had children from a first marriage in his twenties, and again with a second one in his forties who said, “Having at least two sets of children is like eating bran: it may not keep you young and you may not live longer, but it sure feels that way.”
Even the books we looked at were not particularly helpful. They seemed very simplistic, much too clinical, or with such a religious cast that they were a turn off to both of us. Twenty-two years later I found that people in my clinical practice, and now our kids’ friends, were making the same mistakes and were just as lost as we had been. With that in mind we decided to write this book. It is an attempt to detail some of our own experiences including our mistakes, and what we learned from it all. Our hope is that our chronicle will help others who are in the process of building a blended family.
If you take away one big idea from this book, it is that the most important part parents can play in a blended family is to sustain a healthy relationship with their own biological children, and to integrate them into their new family. Divorce marks the demise of the first family, and is really like a death for everyone. To lose a child through actual death is a terrible experience, but to lose a child through non-inclusion in the second family can be worse than a death, because it may remain an on-going issue, no matter when it occurs or what the child’s age is.
All of us know couples who have started new families after a divorce. Many of these people have found happiness with their new partner, and their new life. However ideal their new marriage seems from the outside, if their biological children are not integrated into their new family, there is a broken quality to the parent’s inner life. These parents may say “I did the best I could," “I have new children now that make up for it,” or “we’re so happy together, just us.” Despite those comments, they still feel guilt, depression and a sense of loss about how their children from the first marriage have not become happy, successful or capable of developing relationships of their own.
We believe that divorce causes feelings of abandonment for everyone involved, but the desire to be listened to, included, loved, and feel “special,” motivates all of us despite our unique personalities. As a divorce attorney once said “You are only as happy as your unhappiest child.”