Blessed & Blended
This post was submitted by a friend but I felt that the lessons were relatable to anyone experiencing blended family life. ENJOY!!!
It's pretty safe to assume that in 2017 you are part of, or close to someone in a blended family. And while there's no one way to be successful at coparenting, I assure you that navigating through a blended family can be like jogging through a minefield blindfolded some days. No matter how awesome you think you get along, like any long term relationship, you guys will hit walls. While my coparenting capacity began as foster parent, it still continues in my marriage. And I get better every year.
So here are some of the challenges and nuggets about blended life that have been reinforced my last 12 months.
Prepare to be misunderstood
Effective communication takes years of practice. You will misunderstand and be misunderstood. But Be mature and patient. Alain de Button sums my sentiments up perfectly:
"To blame someone for not understanding you fully is deeply unfair because, first of all, we don't always understand ourselves. And even if we do understand ourselves, we have such a hard time communicating ourselves to other people. Therefore, to be furious and enraged and bitter that people don't get all of who you are is really a cruel piece of immaturity."
Own the narrative
When you are in a coparenting situation, there will always an opportunity for someone to implant ideas in a child's fragile mind and speak on your behalf. When that happens, those ideas can be soiled by someone else's insecurities or negative assumptions. Be proactive and remove any doubts by controlling the narrative. When you take out time to have truthful, yet sometimes uncomfortable conversations with your kids, you kill the middleman. You can clear up any misconceptions that might have been implied and reinforce your love for them - in first person.
Get over yourself
When I first started dating my husband, so many of my sentences started with "I" and how "I feel."
There is something about blending families that can feel so threatening. It's because you don't have full control. But be weary of adopting an egotistical mindset. Ego is the death of a healthy blended family because it's so not just about you. And when you live in that space of me, me, me, you start to think the world is both against you and owes you something. You become so wrapped up in self you lose the ability to see the perspective of others and lack compassion. You actually become a narcissist. And even when you learn more details, ego tells you, "I am too important to change perspectives because it may make me look weak." Welp...Lets get over yourselves! And breathe. It's gonna be ok.
Fight the urge to let your kids take over your entire life
Don't think for one second your kids do not know how to play the system. They are master manipulators. They tug on our heartstrings and fill us with guilt like we've never felt before. Don't fall for it. Kids are takers. If faced with an option where they could have a fun time or give you a much needed break--which one do you think they will vote for??? Remember, self care is essential as parents. So give yourself a break and don't feel bad about it. You deserve it. Their world will not fall apart because you didn't buy them that toy or take them on that vacation. There will be plenty of other opportunities for it to be all about them i.e. EVERY OTHER DAY OF THE YEAR.
Don't fall in the trap of comparisons
Its probably a valid feeling to think your kid might get let overshadowed as time passes on, people remarry, additional children get added to family units and boundaries take root. But trust yourself, trust your coparents and trust the process.
At the end of the day, children are going to have unique experiences. They are different people. This happens not just in blended families but even when both parents are the same. For example, growing up, my sister did pageants. And when she competed it was a big deal. We would have to get all dressed up and couldn't be one minute late. The whole family would come out to support her. I, on the other hand, was the queen of all things after school. Debate club, choir, sports-you name it. Because many of these activities took place directly after school, my family couldn't attend many of the activities I participated. But not one time did I slighted. Not once.
Same parents, different kids, unique experiences.
We have to get out of feelings. Resist the temptation to compare kids and their experiences. Everybody can't come to everything. And everything ain't for everybody. Moreover, if you fall into the trap of always highlighting differences or going tit for tat, you're gonna drive yourself crazy as a parent and probably make your kid feel pretty confused in the process. Sometimes it will be a family affair and sometimes we will have to...
Divide and conquer
To drive this point home I'll share a funny story...
Until around the age of 6, my husband had not missed any of his sons doctors appointments with his sons mom, for both emergency and nonemergency. I always though it was quite unnecessary for both parents to attend but for some strange reason, I had a deep desire to feel included. I thought if this is that important for two adults to be present, maybe I'm missing out on something great. So sure enough, one day my husband invited me to tagalong to a dentist appointment and I wasn't gonna miss it for the world. So there we all were...us three of us adults, swaddled around this kid in a small dentist office. Unsurprisingly, the dentist reminds us that only one adult can be in the room, so like the cool stepmom I am, I hung back and let them split the moment.
As I sat in the lobby for two hours with no Wi-Fi signal and a wasted half day, I couldn't help to laugh at myself. What a idiot I was being! I was bored out my mind and it was a major waste of time. And I didn't even get to spend time with the kid.
I have never been to a group doctors visit since.
That day I learn 2 critical lessons. A. It's not personal. Sometimes kids are just gonna do some things with their birth parents. B. We can still be a united force without everybody being physically present at every life event. We can divide and conquer.
Nobody's perfect. Including you. There will always be certain details of other people's households you won't be privy to or situations you could of handled better.Thats life. But you don't need full disclosure to show compassion.
Empathy is a precursor to grace. Be slow to jump to conclusions. And yup-get over yourself. When you only see life from your perspective or fixate on how you would've handled the situation better, you are seeking to win at all costs (even if everyone else loses in the long run).
Empathy changes your lens.
Simply put, Blended families requires twice as much effort because twice as many people are in your marriage. Children will need extra words of affirmation, exes /birth parents may get jealous and step parents will overstep. Its all part of the dance. But like with any group activity, lots of people can equal lots of fun! Don't let the ways of the world win.
"You can do it"- Waterboy