As part of our Blended Family Friday series, each week we spotlight a different stepfamily to learn how they've worked to bring their two families together. Our hope is that by telling their stories, we'll bring you closer to blended family bliss in your own life!
These days, Kerri Mingoia's relationship with her husband's ex-wife Lisa is so amicable it's enviable. Lisa has even joined the family on vacations.
It wasn't always that way, though. There were years of tension before the parents finally realized the harm they were doing to their sons.
"We could no longer bear to see our son Trevor so upset. He was this little boy that didn't ask for any of this," Kerri told The Huffington Post. "Eventually we put our own struggles and insecurities aside and did what was right for the kids."
Below, Kerri tells us more about how she and Lisa came to see eye to eye.
Hi Kerri. Please introduce us to your family.
There are four people in our family. Me, my husband Marc and our boys: Trevor, from Marc’s first marriage is 23. Torren, from my first marriage, is 17. We're also close with Marc's stepson from his first marriage. His name is Tyler and he's 27 now.
Marc and I will have been together for 15 years this August but we've only been married for five years. We were both hurt after our divorces so we collectively decided we did not want to get married again. Then we changed our minds!
Torren, Marc, Kerri, and Lisa (Trevor's mom) at Trevor's graduation party
You said that you and Marc's ex-wife are on great terms today, but mentioned that it wasn't always that way. Could you tell us more about that?
In the beginning there was so much tension and stress between all of us, to the point where the kids were upset and stressed over it. We just could not see eye-to-eye.
But one day, seven years later, it all changed. I remember the day clearly. My stepson Trevor was 16 and was going to Berkshire Prep School to play hockey. Marc and I decided to throw a big going away party for him. I called Lisa and told her what we were doing and I asked her if she would like to come to our house for the party. She said yes! It was like all the walls finally came crumbling down. All the insecurities, jealousy and anger between us disappeared.
At the party, Lisa and I talked and talked and the hurt feelings slowly dissipated. After that, we all ended up driving up to Berkshire Prep school for the weekend together. I have never seen Trevor so happy! And the truth is, the stress had affected Torren, too; the house was a big ball of stress because of our issues. We all grew up. When we were finally able to co-parent successfully, it made Trevor and Torren feel secure and it provided them with consistency and stability.
What's one problem you and your family have repeatedly faced? How have you and Marc sought to address it?
Well, on top of “normal” family challenges, we've had our share of problems specific to blended families. The one problem we've encountered over and over again is the issue of discipline. A new household and new parents means a whole new set of rules. That was tough for the kids to get used to. My husband and I were both single parents for a while so our children were only familiar with how we each ran things.
We attempted to solve it by openly communicating. When we moved in together we sat down and talked about how we each ran our separate households and tried to agree and carry some of that over so there was not a drastic change for the kids. Torren was two-years-old at the time so it didn't affect him quite as much. As parents, we'd sometimes get into your kids vs. my kids arguments. Keeping the line of communication open helped a lot.
What do you appreciate most about stepfamily life?
I love that it's a true learning experience for our kids. They have learned about compromise, how to resolve conflicts and the need to be flexible.
I am so proud of how far we've come. Today, Marc’s ex Lisa and all of the ex-grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins join us for holidays and birthdays. We host Christmas Eve every year and all are welcome! We carpool with Lisa to Providence College to watch our Trevor play hockey. We have even taken some big family vacations together.
What advice do you have for other blended families who are struggling to keep the peace?
You need to go into it with a positive attitude and know that it's going to be hard work. You need to have realistic expectations. Most families are not the Brady Bunch from the beginning. Respect and communication are very important: Listen to the kids and your partner.
Also be sure to plan some one-on-one time with your own children, without your spouse around. It's so important. It's equally important to pencil in some time with your spouse without the kids. And finally, never bad mouth the biological parents in front of the kids. You will just push them away from you because they will always feel like they have to side or protect their parents.