My wife and I have a blended family. I have three children that I brought into our marriage, she added four more, and then we had two kids together. A “yours, mine, and ours” in the truest sense of the phrase. People routinely joke about us being the Brady Bunch. Outwardly I chuckle when I hear the comparison, while inwardly I think, Fuck the Brady Bunch. They were on TV, where a blended family looks easy and any problem can be solved in a half-hour (22 minutes, if you take away the commercials).
My divorce was ugly, to say the least. The worst of the fallout relates to the children, who are always collateral damage in these situations. I have two sons who haven’t seen me or talked to me in years; I have one son who lives with me and hasn’t seen his mother much either. A familial slash-and-burn if ever there was one. My wife’s family fared better. Despite the dissolution of a marriage and the pain it caused her and her ex, they did what was best for the kids, and continue to do so. If you’re looking for a way to go through divorce with as few casualties as possible, they’d be a crew worth studying. That being said, no one goes through divorce unaffected. It’s the dismantling of a home and family, for God’s sake, and sad business no matter what the reasons are.
We have seven of the nine children in our home full-time. So here we sit, the nine of us. Everyone with a story, everyone with likes and dislikes, everyone with joy and pain, everyone with baggage they’re dragging along on this journey. In spite of the unique personalities and worldviews, I think the chemistry is pretty good in our home. But any chemist worth his NaCl will tell you that if you mix enough things together, you’ll eventually have a reaction. On the whole, the reactions have been positive – new relationships growing from the ashes; positive interactions that help people grow as individuals, further solidifying the new family; additional friends and in-laws that offer support and love (if you’re lucky, like I am). These positive interactions are what bring a family together. They’re what every couple hopes to achieve when making the decision to get married, blended family or not. My story is largely one of success. I inherited three beautiful, intelligent, quirky stepdaughters (my first experience with girls; my previous marriage yielded all boys) and a smart, athletic stepson. My wife’s extended family has welcomed me with open arms. Hell, even her ex has been great to me, and he certainly doesn’t have to be. At pickups and drop-offs we’ll shake hands, chat about sports or world news, and be on our way. Picture perfect, right?
99 times out of 100, the answer is yes. But then there’s that one time, that one miserable fucking time when the substances in the chemist’s beaker don’t mix the way he anticipated. And then the world seems like it’s falling down around us.
My wife and I had one of those days earlier this week. I’ll spare you the details – in the end, details don’t matter – but it was not a good day. It’s days like that when you start questioning if your chemistry will ever get back in balance. Or you wonder if you’ve done the right thing, the reasonable thing, in bringing all of these people together. I hate days like that. Suddenly the 99 days are fading away in the rearview mirror, while this big ugly bastard of a semi has taken their place and temporarily blocked out the good times.
That woman you married, the one you love with all your heart? She’s the enemy in Operation Family Conflict. The children, the ones you would do anything to protect and nurture? Pawns on the battlefield of said disagreement. Those vows you recited before friends and family and the Good Lord Above? Crushed under the jackboot of this new person you become.
Minutes go by. Sometimes hours. And then hindsight sets in, fickle bitch that she is.
How do two people who love each other so dearly go Jekyll and Hyde on the bit? How does a topic that’s sooooooooo looooooooooow on the totem pole of issues cause so much turmoil? And, worst of all, how do two people who never, ever argue about ANYTHING regarding themselves – finances, household matters, occupations, etc – end up at odds over stupid shit pertaining to kids?
Million-dollar questions, one and all, but I’m the losing contestant because I don’t have the answers, Wink.
Here’s what I *do* know.
First and foremost, I love my wife. I don’t know how much I believe in fate and soulmates and all that jazz, but if there was ever a woman made specifically for me, she’s the one. I could write pages (and have) about how much I love her and the various qualities she possesses. So while that menacing semi does its best to blot out the sun on days when things aren’t clicking, it will never win. Our life, and love, is too great for that. It doesn’t make the 1 day in 100 any easier when we’re in the midst of an argument, but as the emotions die down and the end of the discussion closes in, it’s very easy to see that things will be OK. And they always will be.
Second, both of us love our children. We may see things differently – why wouldn’t we when some kids are our own and some are on lease from the other parent? – but despite the differences in opinion or action, the endgame is always the same: we want what’s best for our brood.
Last, my marriage is more important than a debate about curfews or messy bedrooms, and it damn well better be. With seven kids in our home, there will be no shortage of things to discuss (and we have sixteen years before complete-and-total freedom from the rugrats). Yet, sadly, I think this is where it’s all-too-easy to be waylaid by the emotion of a moment. Each side decides it’s WWI and it’s time to start digging trenches, cuz dammit, this is a battle worth fighting! Yet these skirmishes, these 1-time-out-of-100s, can do real damage if they’re allowed to. And wouldn’t that be a silly reason to see a relationship start to degrade? As tempting as it is to live out your inner Patton, it’s much, MUCH more important to let cooler heads prevail and work through the issue together instead of bulldozing each other.
So how do you do that? Beats the shit out of me. I’m just talking here, folks. But I’m doing my best to learn and adjust along the way. My wife and I know that we’re two different personality types – she’s an extrovert who likes to talk (and, when in an argument, likes to work through an issue to the bitter end) and I’m an introvert (who doesn’t like conflict and will do damned near everything I can to stay out of it). She’s the battering ram, I’m the runner. Our goal is simple: meet somewhere in the middle, where I don’t feel like I have to withdraw and try to placate her to get a false sense of peace, while she can discuss her feelings, safely and freely, without me feeling like I have to get away. A delicate balance, to be sure, but one we’ve gotten better at. We still slip up and derail, but we catch ourselves much sooner most times.
Parenting is tough under the best of circumstances. Not sure about the rest of you folks, but I never got an instruction manual before walking out of the hospital with my babies. But that shit’s tiddlywinks compared to raising kids while honoring your marriage in a blended family. It’s not for the faint of heart; hell, it’s damned hard for two reasonably strong, intelligent, and thoughtful people such as me and my wife. Do we screw up and make a mess of things once in awhile? You’re damned right we do. But is it worth chugging through the mess-ups to get back to the good times?
You better believe it.
Until we meet again…