I have written previously that my parents were divorced when I was 14. Following the announcement, Dad moved into the only hotel in our town which was above the bowling alley. I visited him there frequently in the evenings and on weekends although my mother had a cow, because the bowling alley was also a bar. His room was so small and cramped; you could barely turn around in it. A year after my father had moved out of the house, he moved out of state for a better job, remarried and had my half-brother and half-sister a few years later. A year after that we moved away from my home town. My mother dated a bit, but did not remarry until long after I was an adult living my own life. For a variety of reasons, primarily distance and money, I visited my father only a few times throughout the remainder of my adolescence and my step-mother, half-brother, and half-sister were not a part of my everyday life.
The divorce and the move were detrimental to my emotional well-being. I did not adapt or respond well to those events. You can read about it here; (http://www.familywellnesscenter.net/new-page-25/ ). Because my mother was the custodial parent and did not remarry, I did not have to adapt to either a blended family or to split living arrangements as so many children currently do. As angry as I felt, it was probably a good thing. I can only imagine how I would have responded to another woman attempting to be my mother or another man in my life attempting to be my father.
At the time of my parent’s divorce, mothers generally became the custodial parent and fathers had visitation rights, which is what happened. Since then, custodial arrangements have changed and currently divorced parents often end up with a 50/50 custody split. While it sounds clean and easy, the actual arrangements can be an American horror story. Adapting to the divorce and split living arrangements is hard for most children; but at least they get to see and spend time with each parent. If the parents are cooperative with each other, they can implement similar rules, structure and routine along with consistent and appropriate consequences for inappropriate behaviors. That can be a big help to providing the stability a child needs in order to feel safe and maintain a sense of order. Unfortunately however, co-operation between divorced parents is not common and the children are caught in the middle, loving each parent, and having to feel, but not understanding, the hostility between their parents.
Parents, of course, try to get on with their lives following the divorce. New relationships are formed and eventually new adult partners emerge. Frequently this also brings step or half-siblings. Imagine how you might fit in this mix if you are the 5 year old, the 9 year old or the 14 year old? Do you get any say in what happens? Does anyone ask about your feelings? Does anyone really take the time to explain what is happening to you in a way you can actually understand? Do you feel safe and secure with all of these new changes? What makes you think that just because you have a new mommy or daddy the same thing isn’t going to happen all over again? Who do you trust? Our emotional bonds are not easily broken, created or repaired.
If you are a divorced or single parent thinking about bringing a new partner into your life and the lives of your children, I encourage you to think about the following items:
1. How will I introduce this person to my children? Is this a “friend”, “my fiancé(e)”, “boy/girl-friend”, …, This can set the stage for how your children will react to and interact with this new person. Remember, your children must build a relationship with this individual in the same way you have.
2. Have you talked with your children about the possibility of another long term adult relationship in their lives? Your children will likely need to process their feelings about a step “mom” or “dad” and it will be beneficial if you can listen to and validate their feelings and address their concerns.
3. Have you and your potential partner sat down and begun to have the conversations about household structure and routine? The new partner is likely unaware of the daily existing structure and routine and who does what, when and how. Introducing a new person into that routine without adequate planning is likely to cause major disruption and open the possibility for difficulties. This can get things off to a rocky start. Everyone, including you and the new partner, will have issues to discuss and resolve. And this will be an on-going process.
4. What about parenting / discipline? If this issue does not get addressed up front between the adults, all of your other preparations may be moot. Here is your crash and burn waiting to happen. Is the new partner already a parent? What is their parenting style? What is your parenting style? Do the parenting styles fit or do they clash? Are you ready to trust your partner with disciplining your children? Is s/he ready to trust you? Do you agree on the household rules, responsibilities and chores?
The four items I have suggested for your consideration are not all inclusive in addressing the issues that come with creating a blended family. And, embarking on the adventure that is blending families is not for the faint of heart. Creating healthy, emotionally intimate adult relationships and being an effective parent are two of the most difficult relationship challenges we face as human beings. Taking the fractured pieces of previous relationships and blending them into a whole once again is a worthy undertaking. But, please do so with thoughtful consideration and planning. Hearts are at risk.