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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Claire James has a relationship with her ex-husband most divorced parents would envy: she and her ex Bill get along wonderfully and have banded together to co-parent their son, Caleb. Bill is even friends with Claire's current husband Jeff.
That doesn't mean there hasn't been any hiccups along the way, though. Below, Claire shares how the parents slowly but surely came to see each other as a team.
Hi Claire! Please introduce us to your family.
In our home, our human family consists of my husband Jeff; my son Caleb, who is five; and me. Our furry family members are a maltipoo named Crosby, who is seven; a German Shepherd puppy named Opal; and a cat with no tail named Molly. We also consider Caleb’s dad, Bill, a member of our family. We do most holidays together, talk almost every day, and Bill and Jeff sometimes even work on Jeff’s car together.
Jeff and I started dating four and a half years ago and have been married for a year.
What's the best thing about being part of a blended family?
The best thing is that there are three parents and one kid, so we have each other’s backs. As a lawyer, I sometimes work demanding hours and/or have to travel for work. I am so lucky that either Jeff or Bill is usually able to help. Once, Caleb had a doctor’s appointment in the middle of the work day. Bill and I could not get out of work, but Jeff could. We were able to make it happen. Recently, Caleb was sick and I had a deposition. Bill was able to take Caleb until my deposition was over.
What are some of the biggest challenges of blended family life?
Being a parent is hard and being part of a blended family adds another element of complication at times. At one point, Caleb was having trouble at preschool. We decided to see a play therapist and part of the process was a parent session with the three of us. It helped us communicate, but more than anything, I think it helped us all to feel like we’re on the same team. Caleb is doing really well, but he still sometimes tries to play us against each other! Sometimes he will say, “but daddy says…” or “but Jeffy lets me have candy…” The trick for us is maintaining communication with each other and doing our best to create consistent rules and boundaries. We always laugh when we are all in the same room together, because he will go from one parent to the next trying to get one of us to say “yes” when the first parent says “no.”
What makes you proudest of your family?
I am so proud that Jeff, Bill and I all get along well. It wasn’t always easy. When Bill and I first split up, I had to work really hard to start thinking of him as a partner in parenting rather than as “my ex.” At first, we were just business partners. Now we are able to be friends. I am truly amazed by how well Jeff has handled the situation since he came into our lives. I know it is not always easy for him, but he has always respected Bill’s role yet has been able to form a close bond with Caleb. In our household, Jeff and I make parenting decisions together, but when Bill is around Jeff is strong enough to take a step back and let Bill and I have parenting conversations. When I see Caleb’s face light up to have us all in a room, particularly on special days like his birthday and Thanksgiving, I am so proud of all of us and so happy that we all love Caleb enough to make it work.
How do you deal with stress in your household?
We all have different ways of dealing with stress. I like to repurpose old furniture, go to the gym, or take the dogs for a walk. Caleb is a talker. When he’s upset about something, he is really good at talking it out. (Sometimes a little too good at talking it out!) Jeff likes his space when he is stressed. He will mess around on his phone or watch sports and unwind that way.
What advice do you have for other blended families struggling to keep the peace
As a newlywed, I’ve had to learn to be supportive of my husband in his new role as stepdad. He is so great at it that sometimes I don’t appreciate how challenging it is. My dad, who went through a similar experience, helped me appreciate that being a stepdad is tough and that Jeff is doing great at it.
In terms of co-parenting with an ex, I think it is important to do what you can to get past all the anger and resentment and move forward into a new relationship as co-parents. If you can’t get past the anger, fake it until you make it. It gets better! Your kids will be better off if you can get along. Along those lines, pick your battles. There are times when Bill might do something differently than I might like, but I try my best not to make an issue out of it unless it could impact Caleb’s health or emotional well-being. Obviously we don’t agree on everything, but we try to respect each other’s role in Caleb’s life.