HELPFUL ADVICE FOR BLENDED FAMILIES
Blended families require friendship, love and tremendous understanding.
Posted Jan 06, 2010
We all have heard the stats pertaining to the divorce rate of marriages in the American home. Although the precise number varies depending on your source, you will find that the numbers hover around 42 to 49% for the first marriage then escalates to around 60 to 67% for the second marriage then jumps again to approximately 74% for marriage number three. We’ll stop there in the interest of brevity, but there is obviously a trending north of 75% for nuptials four and higher.
Hopefully those of us who have divorced more than once have at some point taken an inward journey to asses where the challenges in our decisions stem. This is certainly not an indictment or a judgment call from me to anyone. I merely speak for myself. I’ve divorced twice and upon deciding to try for success a third time, there were some non-negotiables I knew I would have to require as well as some profound concessions I would need to make. Upon my second divorce, my wife and I decided that our two sons would be best off with me. In hindsight I now realize fathering my sons fulltime was not even a variable up for discussion. I wasn’t going to be the absentee father that my dad was to me.
When you remarry into a family with children or you take your children into a new family, the choices you make and the perspective you live will have even more of a compound affect. As a Caribbean born American raised in Brooklyn, New York I chose to marry a Polish American woman raised in a suburb of Chicago, Illinois called Downers Grove. Her daughter and my sons became fast friends; at the time they were ages 4, 6 and 8. We’ve since gone through the full gamut as you can imagine living in the South East United States. We’ve encountered racism in our church, neighborhood and even in our places of employment. Our children have encountered the subtle emotional and psychological abrasions one would expect them to receive from kids who see them attending activities with a parent and siblings of a different race.
We’ve even encountered friction within our home as a result of our cultural differences and the occasional territorial skirmishes that siblings endure. My wife and I decided to educate our children on all the possible situations they could be faced with so that no one or nothing would catch them unaware. We chose to live in Central Florida. Our scenario alone makes for an interesting reality based television show. My wife and I shared the notion that all human beings want to feel loved and that they belong to someone or something. This family became that unit of love and belonging despite the current of external influences.
We made a vow that we would never treat the other in a manner that we would not want to be treated. Sound familiar? We’ve made that Golden Rule more relevant on a micro level by adapting the following.
v It is a non-negotiable that we eat dinner together as a family with the television turned off.
v We’ve learned to accept each other as individuals without trying to change them, the same way we will have to accept people in the world outside our home.
v If change is necessary, we discuss the issue with a clear and concise explanation of its benefits as well as the penalty for non-compliance both in our home and in life.
v We take the time to learn each other and appreciate the strengths and challenges we all inherently have and discuss them in a loving and non-judgmental atmosphere.
v We make appropriate family decisions together so therefore all parties have a stake in the process and outcome.
v My wife and I vow to keep our major disagreements away from our children with the understanding that we explain that mom and dad do disagree without having to be disagreeable or create a contentious atmosphere
v We tend to keep short accounts with each other and not let issues build up in layers thus causing a volcanic explosion. We teach our children and each other the type of things that one should easily forgive and let go versus the issues that should be dealt with directly and promptly.
v We bind together and multiply each others joys and accomplishments so that we can also divide each others failings and sorrows.
v We start and maintain family traditions such as saying I love you at least three times a day and making birthdays and other occasions special. We even make up our own holidays that we keep sacred in our home.
v Because we are of the Christian faith, we say grace over every meal, even publicly we bow our head in prayer. My wife and I firmly believe that if we teach our children that it is okay to display their belief system publicly then they will seldom be ashamed of who they are.
Certainly there is no magic stair step method to successfully raising a blended family. I’m sure we can all believe in one thing; and that is as people we all want to feel that when we leave this life that someone will benefit from a legacy we’ve created filled with fond thoughts and memories. If you decide to become a blended family, the memories you’ll create are a great place to start.