As part of our Blended Family Friday series, each week we spotlight a different stepfamily to learn how they successfully blended their two families. Our hope is that by telling their stories, we'll bring you closer to blended family bliss in your own life! Want to share your own story? Email us at email@example.com.
You'd be hard-pressed to find a blended family that didn't seriously butt heads in those first few years of living under one roof. But rest assured -- it gets better. Our reader Christine Moore swears that peace is possible if you give it a chance.
"You have to keep your eye firmly on the prize!" said Moore, who married her second husband Jason 10 years ago. "Our family has worked really hard on trying to get along -- and the effort was put in by me, my ex, my new husband and all three of my kids."
Below, Christine tells us more about bringing her second husband into the fold and the hard work that's gone into making her family -- ex-husband included -- feel like a team.
Hi Christine! Want to introduce us to your family?
For the immediate family, it's me, my husband Jason, my oldest daughter Chelsea, 22; my younger daughter Celine, 19; and my son Raymond, 17.
(Photo courtesy of Christine Moore)
How long have you and Jason been together?
Ten years. We got married on Leap Day 2004. We were both so scared -- me, because I had three children and wanted to be sure he was ready for such a huge undertaking and him, because he had never had children and wasn’t sure he could take on this enormous responsibility. A wise friend finally said to us, "Stop waiting for the perfect moment -- just leap and the net will appear." So we got married on Leap Day.
What are some of the biggest challenges of blended family life?
The logistics of coordinating two family schedules and financial and time commitments involving four people can be hard. Basically, think of all the stuff that is already a challenge with just two parents and double that. That's why it's so important to stay in regular contact with your ex, even though there are times you definitely won’t feel like doing that. I find that when my ex and I just check in with each other it keeps the kids from playing us off each other -- especially when it comes to issues like them needing money. (Two of them are away at college, so that's increasingly a problem!)
Tell us a little bit about bringing your current husband into the family.
My husband joined our family when my youngest was seven and my oldest was 12. While he missed their “babyhood,” he came in at a really great time in their lives. He was a wonderful influence on them as they started to explore their world around them. He has a writing background, so he turned them on to some great books, art and music. While I love many of the same things, I’m not sure I would have had the time or the energy to expose them to such great works if he had not been in the picture.
I also think it’s a benefit to our kids to see how different parenting and relationship styles can work. Not everyone gets from Point A to Point B the same way, but we are definitely all striving to get to Point B. The kids learn that there’s no one perfect answer, but as long as you keep the end goal in mind, you’ll eventually get there.
What makes you proudest of your family?
That we got through some really tough stuff, and we’re still standing. We’ve run the gamut of challenges since my ex and I divorced, both with each other and externally. There have been very few times when me and my husband or my ex and his wife didn’t step up and say, "How can I help?” We’ve tried really hard to remember that stress for parents equals stress for kids and we have an obligation, whenever possible, to try to reduce that. There’s enough other stuff out there in the world to stress them out -- we need to be their safe harbor.
How do you deal when stress does become an issue in your household?
This is still a learning process. The stress changes as your children age. When they were small, it was something as simple as saying to your spouse, “Hey, I’m going to breathe and walk around the block real quick -- cover me.” When they were teenagers, the challenges became bigger, with bigger consequences. There were times when both my ex and I would have to call each other and say, "Would you mind taking (insert child’s name here) out for a soda? I need to regroup here.” I’m a big fan of stepping away to allow for a cooling off period. I’ve rarely seen a positive outcome emerge from an immediate reaction.
One of the new strategies I’m using is the idea that any unpleasant conversation with a close loved one should be accompanied by touch. By that, I mean holding a hand or something like that. I have read that it’s impossible to have a down and dirty battle with your spouse when you’re holding hands and I believe that’s true, although it might be VERY. FIRM. HANDHOLDING. The jury’s still out on that one. I’ll let you know.
What advice do you have for other blended families who feel like a peaceful family dynamic is out of reach?
Write it down! Journaling is a proven way to help you focus and be less reactive. I found that writing down what was really upsetting me served a number of purposes: First, I spilled out my anger in a format that didn’t cause lasting damage. After I wrote it down, I walked away. When I came back, I was able to decide whether this was something I really wanted to take on or not. If it was, I reread what I wrote and tried to articulate it in a more mature, less emotional way. If I didn’t think it rose to the level of addressing it, it was because rereading it had helped me to see that perhaps I might have overreacted or even fallen in the trap of responding to a trigger.
Another great thing about writing stuff down is that when you put behind you whatever’s getting you worked up, you can go back later and pat yourself and your family on the back when you realize that you’ve all gotten through it! I look back now on the journaling I did right after the divorce and realize that yes, it was hell for a while, but we never gave up and today, me, my ex, my husband and all of our combined kids can do goofy things like a week-long camping trip, which is what we did last year.
Yes, you read that right. We all went camping together. For a week, our little blended family caravan went tent camping up the West Coast. We even traded off kids occasionally on the road to mix things up. I knew we had made the right decision when I was awoken one night in my tent by loud belly laughs -- it was my husband, my ex-husband, and our wonderful college-bound daughter sitting around the fire telling stories and laughing uproariously. I have never slept so well as I did that night in that campsite. Yes, peace is possible when you keep your eye on the prize!