Blended Families

Dear Claudia,

I am in love with a wonderful man, who has two children, and I have three of my own. He suffered a terrible divorce, and his ex-wife still makes things difficult for us. We have been married for over three years, and I expected by now that things would go more smoothly. One of my kids is thirteen, and one of his is fifteen, and the others are all under the age of ten. Is this a sign that things are not going to work out if after all this time we have more problems than ever? I would appreciate your thoughts.

Dear Mother in a Blended Family,

I hear the hopelessness and dejection in your letter. But the good news is your problems should not be anywhere near over by now. (Wait a minute…that’s good news?) What I’m trying to say is that your what your problems are a “sign” of is just that you all still have a little more work to do. That’s all. Just like the rest of us.

Here is the ideal, Brady Bunch version of a blended family.

Bobby: Cindy is so cute, and nobody pays any attention to me. I’m going to run away. 

Other kids and parents: Oh, no, Bobby’s run away. We have to find him and tell him that we love him. Alice, have you seen Bobby?

Alice: Bobby packed a peanut butter sandwich and his favorite teddy-bear and headed for the sandbox.

Other kids and parents: Oh, Bobby, there you are! We love you! We will pay attention to you from now on, and don’t forget; you can always come and talk to Mom and Dad.

Bobby: Oh, thanks, everybody! Now I know I’m loved and I will have no more problems.

Real Life moments in a blended family.

Bobby: Cindy is so cute, and nobody pays any attention to me. I’m going to start doing badly in school.

Cindy: Why does Bobby get all the attention? 

Jan (the teenager): Because Mom and Dad mess everything up, as usual.

Marcia (another teenager): Well, if you weren’t so whiny, they wouldn’t be so stressed out.

Greg: I hate you, Marcia, you always mess things up.

Bobby: Mo-om, Greg is being mean to Marcia.

Problems can multiply in a blended family, that’s for sure. And they don’t always get resolved in one episode. I don’t blame you for contemplating divorce; it’s a good escape hatch and as such, a valuable fantasy. You may all be drowning in a sea of chaos and confusion at times, but don’t be fooled into thinking that this means it’s time for the whole family to abandon ship. 

 It’s time to organize your mental house into distinct narratives.  Sort out whose story is whose, and allow everyone to be heard in their story.  No “fixing.” No “reality.”  Just allowing.  

Eventually, when everyone feels heard, the family can start to see each other for what and who they really are.  Eventually.  

Until then, be in your own story.  Disappointed.  Overwhelmed.  Open.

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