Ah yes, even now it pains me a little. The famed Norman Rockwell painting, which has been called by many names. For me it has always represented one thing. The Perfect Family. How I tried and tried with all my might to paint our family into this photo. I could feel the yearning to see our happy faces laughing and sharing a table and a beautiful life together along with grandparents, siblings, and close friends.
Selfishness is at the bedrock of human nature and my resulting divorce had thrashed ugly lines in my longed-for painting that forever prevented us from sharing that family table together.
But wait! All is not lost! Blended families offer incredible opportunities for self-discovery, growth, and new beginnings. Let’s have a look at a definition of the word “blended.” Blended means mixed together to make a product of the desired quality.
When I remarried seven years ago, my new husband and I each had a long first marriage behind us and were carrying plenty of extra baggage on our respective journeys, clinging to the hope that there might be a chance at redemption. We were in our 40s and each having experienced the devastation of divorce and watching our children lose their sense of well-being and the carefree security and comfort of a two-parent home. This doesn’t happen without leaving some battle scars. In my case, I was still sporting the open wounds of unrealized expectations and a deep sense of doubt that things could ever be right again. The death of a dream can have a way of seriously messing with your happily ever after.
When Mack and I found each other, he had a daughter that was 15 and an 11-year-old son. My three boys were 17, 19 and 23. Two years later, we were married and off on our adventure. Our newly blended family was fragile, broken by the pain of divorce, each one struggling in their own way but all hopeful for a new beginning.
Not that I’m saying anything new here but marriage is a challenge on many levels, particularly a second marriage. Two people who come together, having lived a few decades, tend to bring along a lot of ideas as to how things “ought” to be done as well as hair-triggers from the elements contributing to the collapse of a prior marriage. Often, there is a collision—or three—as adjustments and allowances are made for their chosen mate.
I wish I could say that Mack and I lived happily ever after and tie up my story with a pretty pink and blue bow. I’m betting you could have guessed that there were issues. Our first year was painfully precarious and the second only slightly more hopeful. As we fought to stay the course, there was a steady stream of family drama with some of our kids that added to the tension.
We both wanted to make it work and believed we had something special and a purpose in our union in spite of obvious challenges. Mack believed we could be a stable home base for our family if we focused on “us.” He would remind me of what we had learned at the weekend pre-marital retreat. “The two of you, husband and wife, are family before the kids. This must be your focus. It is the pathway for your kids to feel secure.” He was right. Over the next few years we would see significant changes. With love, commitment, and a shared goal of rebuilding and repairing our lives and our families from the brokenness we had experienced, we began to grow and move into a healthier relationship.
During the course of our seven years together, Mack and I have become an effective team, each learning from the other when it comes to this new phase of parenting. We are recent empty nesters and our parenting has shifted once again. We do our best, when requested, to act as cheerleaders and advisors with the wisdom we have between us. We encourage all our kids to take personal responsibility and never play the victim to their own hurt. We are all adults and must determine to put the past in its proper perspective and move forward with grace.
We host family dinners and recently returned from our first annual blended family vacation. We spent four days together and while it wasn’t entirely perfect, it was filled with perfect moments and those are my focus. A favorite was watching the kids work together as a cooking team to prepare a creative, delicious Jamaican themed meal. We unanimously concluded they were the hands-down winners of the newly established Golden Pineapple Award. As I observed, I saw a uniquely blended unit, each with their own task, working together in cooperation to create one unified outcome. The analogy was beautiful to me.
Sometimes the joy of being a family looks like a long, late night conversation. Other times it’s an impromptu drop-in to discuss a job or school situation, fix a resume, or offer a home-cooked meal to one whose been living off fast food for too many weeks. Often it’s a private moment when I trust in God and pray that they will find their own way to their ultimate purpose.
As a Certified Life Coach, I have learned that asking powerful questions is an effective way to work through many of our conundrums in life. I’d like to share a few questions that have helped Mack and me as we continue to traverse this ongoing journey of discovering what it looks like to be family. I hope they will be a helpful guide to you in embracing your own beautifully, imperfect blended family.
Questions to help guide you along your blended family journey:
Question: Do you see the beauty in the brokenness of your family?
Hint: We must continually choose to look through the lens of hope.
Question: Can you glimpse the rainbow breaking through the stormy sky of any misdirected expectation?
Hint: When we set our expectations on the decisions of others, they are misdirected.
Question: Have you acknowledged the natural tendency to make allowances or excuses for your own children more freely than for your spouse’s?
Hint: Frequent self-checks on a case-by-case scenario are important.
Question: Have you embraced the good of what is rather than longing for how you wish it was or dreamed it would be?
Hint: Courting disappointment robs us of available joy.
Question: How can you best appreciate and encourage the redeemed version of your family today and cultivate growth going forward?
Hint: We should remember to express gratitude for what is right in the life of our family when communicating with our spouse. It is a wondrous elixir and a cushion for discussing areas of any needed adjustment.
Question: Do you and your husband talk about the challenges of parenting from your different perspectives?
Hint: We must not accuse or blame. We need to create a place of open dialogue with questions and possible solutions in mind.
Question: Have you and he discussed how you will handle your interactions with each other’s parents, siblings, and each other’s kids, as applicable?
Hint: This is a sensitive area for all of us and we should approach it with care and the golden rule in mind.
Question: If you are a new mother or newly part of a blended family, have you sought out a mentor from another family that you admire who can help you traverse the road ahead?
Hint: Being able to learn from another’s challenges, mistakes, and victories is priceless.
Question: If you are a seasoned mother or mother in a blended family, have you made yourself available to mentor a younger or newer mother based on your experiences?
Hint: Let’s look for opportunities to encourage and keep in mind we didn’t always have the perspective or experience we have now.
Lastly, we are working with human beings, each having a unique personality, a special set of gifts and talents, tendencies and faults, different responses, and perspectives. The goal for a family is to embrace each one with love and acceptance while setting some healthy boundaries for a cooperative unit that supports and affirms each other. It’s not easy to accept the fact that during various seasons along the journey, one or more may need to be given some space as they find their way through a rough patch.
Let them know you love them and want the best for them. Be ready to listen, acknowledge their feelings, and affirm that you believe in them. They need to know they are missed and you are looking forward to being together again. Wait patiently. Oftentimes a stormy season is exactly what is needed for self-discovery and reconciliation. One caution. Don’t check out. Stay engaged and open as the relationship allows and balance the need for space with moving toward reconciliation.
Healthy, high-functioning blended families require work and self-sacrifice, compromise, and concession. There will be conflict and we must resolve to work toward reconciliation and a winning outcome for the family unit as a whole. It won’t be perfect because people aren’t perfect but it can be full of perfect moments and that is good enough.
You’ll also like Divorce Was Not in the Plan, 5 Tips for How to Re-Enter the Dating World, When Life Gives You a New Normal, Remarriage—5 Tips for How to Make it Work, and When Dreams Die… Grieving What Should Have Been