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It was first thing in the morning and he came into my office with hesitation and reluctance.  It was clear to me that showing up at that ungodly hour was the last place this 14-year-old boy wanted to be.  His coming to see me was not his choice; just like his mother's wedding he'd been a groomsman in seven months earlier.

He sat on my couch, his discomfort apparent as he shifted his weight nervously from side to side, trying to adjust to the new surroundings and to me, a woman who was a complete stranger to him.  

He surprised himself by opening up quickly.  His words spilled out, landing on top of each other, words that had been suppressed for far too long.

When he was five, his father had been killed by a drunk driver.   Memories of him had been diluted with time, but they were clear enough to remember the Dad he loved and still missed.

His mother had met a man only a year before...a man with two daughters and a son.  The man's son was the exact same age as him.  They had nothing in common.

His home had been sold, the home that was the preserver of the memories of his father, the home that gave him comfort on those quiet early mornings where he swore he could hear the sound of his father's voice declaring that another great day was yet to be had.  

The new home was big enough, he didn't want to complain, and he had a room of his own. But his mother's new husband had lugged all three of his children with him and the boy felt like an extra, an outsider, a P.S.

His older brothers had moved on to the adventures of college and he had felt abandoned to navigate the wilderness of his new home and new life.

His eyes betrayed his feelings of powerlessness as he leaned towards me, his hands nervously outlining the edges of his well-worn baseball cap.  He mumbled, "I don't want to seem ungrateful, I really don’t, but nobody asked me."

Nobody asked me.  His muted pronouncement sounded like a glaring indictment.

 "I resent how my stepdad comes into my room without asking.  I hate how he tells me he loves me.  I hate how he insists on weekly "family" meetings.  He's not my family and neither are his children".

I was impressed with the boy's ability to describe how he felt at such an awkward age.  I was impressed with the earnestness in which the boy spoke.  I was impressed with the boy, an honor student, an excellent athlete, well liked by all...the boy who had had the rug pulled out from under him for yet another time in his young life.

I nodded in agreement as I listened to him.  And I wasn't surprised.  When his mother and her then-boyfriend had told me during a session several months earlier of their plans to wed and "blend" their families, I could see the big red warning sign illuminate my office.

They were blind to it.  They were innocent and overcome with the hope that the pain of the man's divorce and the horrendous loss of the woman's husband were going to disappear with the merging of their families.

"We are going to be one big family and it's going to be wonderful!" they both exclaimed.  "Our children get along so well!"  They joked about being the next Brady Bunch.
I worried that I was becoming a cynic but I had seen this scene played out in my office one too many times.

I cautiously asked, "Are you sure you don't want to wait awhile?  You've only known each other six months.  High school is a tough time for any kid and any parent, and you may want to consider allowing your children the chance to make it through high school as scar-free as possible."

Their rush to happiness blinded them.

"Oh no!  We want to get married soon and everyone will adjust just fine."

I looked at them and said in a not so subtle way, "Well, you both seem to be in perfect agreement on this, and I wish you all the best.  You are about to go through the fires of hell, and I will be available to help you extinguish the flames that are sure to flare up and threaten to destroy!"

They thought I was joking and laughed.  I told them I wasn't and they shrugged their shoulders.  Three months later, for better or for worse, they got married.

Upon their return from their honeymoon, reality hit home like an unwelcome credit card bill after an impulsive buy.  They had a household of unhappy campers, one of them being the well-spoken boy sitting in my office.

I worked weekly with the family for months to help them develop more realistic expectations and allow the patience of time and care to persevere.  

Because of what the research says, my work with couples in remarriages and my own personal experience, I've lost my faith in the notion of the "blended" family.  I am emphatic when I tell couples it is a myth...a strange notion perpetuated by people who believe in happily ever after who are still trying to find it.

Expectations are pre-meditated resentments in disguise.  Having an expectation that you can take children from completely different family systems, beliefs, and traditions and throw them all into one home, like an Osterizer blender, and press, "Mix" and expect smooth results, isn't realistic, and it's not healthy anyway.

My four children were teenagers when I married my husband nine years ago.  He brought (every other weekend) a reluctant five-year-old daughter into the mix, a young girl who wasn't too thrilled at being pulled away from the comfort and familiarity of her home with her mother.

Nobody asked my children and nobody asked her.

It's nine years later and there is no blended family.  My children are now in their 20's.  When we get together, they are their own family unit with their own familiar ways of relating, talking, and living their lives.  My stepdaughter is 16 and is still an only child who is used to the ways and traditions of the home of her mother and the time she spends with her father.

And it's really just fine.  Everyone is happy.  Everyone has adjusted.  It works because there are no expectations, no pressures, no false illusions of some newly formed family that pretends that no one else exists.

It's easy to get caught up in our own desires, in our own wish lists...but wish lists are just that.  Magical thinking doesn't make things happen.  But love, acceptance, patience and time do.  

As for the children...it's important to ask the children.  Not that they get to decide, but just so they know they are heard, that they matter, that they have a voice, that they count.

Having a "blended" family isn't a sign of success, but children who know they are seen for who they are, is.  And there is no greater gift we can give our children than that.



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