My blog has been quiet for a while. Partly because my professional life has been keeping me pretty busy, and partly because my mother always told me that if you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything. On one hand, many of my readers simply relate more to the un-nice struggles divorce and post-divorce-life brings. On the other hand, with all of the turmoil being broadcast in our local, national and international news, my diatribes about the difficulties faced by divorced and blended families seemed petty and trivial.
These petty and trivial challenges have been the foundation for countless articles, books and seminars regarding divorce, step-parenting, blended families and all of the trials and tribulations people face when tearing down one relationship and rebuilding another. Looking back over the years, our family has weathered many storms. We've danced around the ring over the typical fights spawned from differences in child-rearing styles to disagreements over financial support. We've sneered, scowled and said nasty things about one another. We've put our children in the middle of arguments and made them feel uncomfortable. We've made our friends and family feel uncomfortable and forced them to choose sides. We've behaved badly. And time marched on.
As time marched on, our need to fight over every little thing started to wane. Somehow the energy required to find fault in the other parent was less important than channeling that energy into rebuilding our new lives. The metamorphosis was painstakingly slow, but the day did finally arrive, when we had all just learned to tolerate each other for the greater good. Our children were worth the effort to simply be civil and find common ground on which we could agree. Or at least agree to disagree.
I've been thinking a lot about my personal journey as a wife and stepmom in this blended family. Mine started out as what I anticipated would be a simple new marriage being added to an old one. The new role of wife to my husband and stepmom to my three kids was exhilarating and exciting, but my role in the eyes of the rest of the extended family was less than optimal. Initially, my mere presence created a lot of turmoil for those who had not yet met me. Though we were trying to blend our families and function as a unit, it was clear that I was an unwanted addition to extended family gatherings such as birthday parties or sporting events. There was no holding back in making me feel uncomfortable in my unfamiliar surroundings and ignoring my existence. Often it was a subtle glare, but sometimes it was an overt snub. There wasn't a lot of acceptance or welcoming, but I learned to grin and bear it, and hoped that no one noticed. But, then something changed. New branches began to sprout and grow as another spouse joined the other side of our family tree, bringing along his children from a previous marriage and his former spouse. Our tree was branching out farther and farther as we added new (step) siblings, new (step) grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. The lines between "immediate" family and "extended" family began to blur. Eventually, the "step" distinguisher was dropped to describe a new relative, and was simply replaced with family. The prior qualifier seemed superfluous. This change in the landscape was the turning-point for me because it pushed me into the background scenery. I was part of the whole family picture.
It's been nearly a decade since I joined this family. Our kids are teenagers and young adults, who have grown up with the love and support of many relatives... some related by blood and many related by marriage. Our family dynamic is hardly unusual in our neighborhood, and there are more children in situations like ours than there aren't. And while no one hopes for divorce, I do hope that it if happens to our kids, that they will know that there is a path to peaceful coexistence if they choose to take it.
I've been quietly wondering whether this is the quiet calm before another storm or whether we have finally all crossed-over into a zone that promotes this peaceful coexistence? I think it's the latter. Most recently, I've been co-planning a family event with our daughter's biological mom. If you had told me 10 years ago that she and I would be meeting with caterers, picking out invitations and designing room décor, I would have scoffed and told you that you were off your medications. Such a prediction was so unlikely at that time. But, here we are, bonded by a common man and three common children. Planning a party and bringing multiple families together under one roof to celebrate our child's milestone. Hostility has been replaced with acceptance and an overwhelming desire to just get along.
I guess I'm finally reigniting my writing today to question aloud and ask my younger self whether all the strife and anguish was worth it? The sleepless nights, the plottings, manipulations and gyrations to push the boulder uphill, only to have it roll back down again. My questions are clearly rhetorical, though I think it was necessary to push through the angst to get to where we are today. So my closing piece of advice to any reader similarly situated, who has made it through to the end of this narrative: give your new family dynamic a chance to be nurtured and thrive. Fight it out, when necessary, but then welcome the opportunity for change. Life really is like a box of chocolates...