I married at 20. I had my first baby at 21. I had my second at 22. I had my third at 24, and by 29 I was divorced.
I can put a positive spin on just about anything in life, but I’m not even going to try with that one. It rocked my world and crushed all my dreams. Bottom line: there was a lot of hard, a bunch of ugly and it just wasn’t how it is supposed to be. However, as soon as I signed the papers I was done with it. I was done being sad, done being angry, done with all the emotions that wouldn’t serve me in my new life I started when I walked out of the attorney’s office over five years ago.
Today I am married to the best guy I know and those babies mentioned above are 12, 11, and 9. My husband has helped me to piece back together a lot of really broken parts of my life. And I believe we have created a really special space for the people in my life. Our family is blended, not broken. And we’re thriving.
I’ve never had a fight with my kids’ dad since we divorced; never uttered a harsh word to him … or really about him. Again, because that doesn’t serve me. All those reasons it didn’t work out for us to be married … that’s why we divorced. I see no value in re-hashing those details again and again and again.
I often have people ask me how and why my husband and I get along so well with my ex and him with us. Today, in honor of National Step-Families Day, I wanted to give my spin on what I think some of the biggest keys to our success have been. I’m all about sharing what’s worked for me. It’s not just me … it’s my husband, my ex-husband, my extended family, and my ex-in laws that have made this possible. We have been able to put selfishness aside and agree to do the very best for our kids. I thought I’d break it down “Seven Tip Style” to shed some more light on how we make this work.
So without further adieu:
7 Tips to a Healthy Blended Family
1. I don’t live in the past. I live in the now. While I could sit around and think through every hurt, every mistake, every ugly word, I do not see how in the world that would bring any type of positive outcome. Is there value in closure and dealing with pain from your past? You betcha. I met with a licensed professional for months for just that. I have, however, made a conscious choice to move forward with my life and you can too. Emotions and regret need not rule your life. Now, will they for a while? Yes. You’re human and there’s been a death of everything that’s most precious to you. It’s painful and every part of you hurts. I was there too, and it was far from pretty. There are days where something hits me even today and I just burst into tears over the reality of things that happened and how it affected my littles … but I don’t live there.
Once you decide to lift yourself out of the pit, walk on out of it. Conjuring up all kinds of feels from the past hurts that leave you in the weepy, “do I drink red or white wine with this Twinkie?” will rob, steal, and destroy the joyful, grateful reality I know you’re seeking. And it will never be good for you. I want you to know that better days and a stronger you are coming … you can look ahead with hope.
2. He is, and forever will be, my kids’ dad. No changing that. And I want the absolute best for my kids, so any of that tension/awkwardness/yuck I can take out of the situation for them, I’m going to do it. I have a hard rule that I don’t talk negatively about my ex around the kids. And you know what, because I don’t, neither do other people. Now, does that mean swallowing my pride sometimes? Yes.
Does that mean pushing all my feelings to the side on occasion? Yes.
Does that mean calling on the strength of the Lord God Almighty who made the sun and stars and universe and says I can do all things through Him, OH. LORD. GIVE. ME. STRENGTH. Holy heck, yes it does. But you know what? He does. And He will for you too.
3. Here’s one thing I know, people will live up to your expectations. I love the quote from Jentezen Franklin that says “if you talk to the king in your husband, the king will stand up; if you talk to the fool in your husband, the fool will stand up.” I’ve found this to be true with ex-husbands, children, and customer service representatives as well. If you talk down to people and remind them of their failures and all things black-heartedness, prepare yourself for more of the same. But if you can humble yourself, speak kindly and breathe life into their best self, then you might just see their best self start to peek out its head. Otherwise, they have NO reason to make you happy. You’re divorced. But if you want to do life with the best version of them for you and your children, you’ll consider this.
4. World Peace, y’all. Did you know that harboring unforgiveness and bitterness can have a psychiatric effect on your brain? Well, now you do. Carrying around that weight is harmful to all parts of you. And I’ll tell you this, I ain’t doin’ it. AND I’m not putting it on my family, my friends, or the people that have to sit next to us at the bazillion sporting events, weekly birthday parties or parent teacher conferences. I’m just not. I want my life to be peaceful and getting along is the easiest way for me to do that. I love Martin Luther King Jr for saying “I have decided to stick to love, hate is too great a burden to bear.” It’s exactly how I feel. When my children’s dad calls and needs me to pick up kids because he has a meeting running late, it’s an immediate yes. When I call him and we need to swap kid weeks because of my work travel, he always accommodates me. It’s worth us both swallowing our pride on issues to make our day-to-day life run smoothly. And I’m so thankful for the team effort.
5. I know what you are thinking. It must have been all him …. And I could have never done a darn thing wrong. How could I? I’m delightful. Ahem, I don’t know how to tell you this, but that is just a hair off. I did my share. That’s just what happens in marriages- healthy and unhealthy. People hurt each other. While my human nature is very attentive to every detail of what HE did and somehow steps over the minute-in-my-mind details of my errors, there were two people in that marriage and I could have done more to make it better too. Who did more of the wrong doing is just a moot point now. I’m all about giving and receiving grace, not keeping tallies of wrong doings. I think that can go for just about everyone.
6. Accentuate the positive. Something I’ve learned from a study on Biblical femininity by Barbara Mouser is that “a woman of excellence chooses to focus on what’s right.” As hard as it may be to see right now, there is good down in there somewhere. How do I know that? Because God doesn’t make junk. Sacred covenants have been broken. Wrong has been done. But I can CHOOSE to see the good. It’s in there. And again, I want my children to see the best in their dad, so I’m sure to point it out. Not just that, I want them to know that I have respect for him … that I want them to love and respect their dad. Because that is healthy and good.
I’m going to be bold here, but I just feel like it needs to be said- I think it’s a form of child abuse to speak about your ex’s failures, or to air your dirty laundry with your children. I know I’m going to do things on accident that will have my children needing therapy in their thirties, but if there are some things I can intentionally do well to preserve our families well-being, I’m willing to walk the extra mile. There is something so precious about the parent-child relationship and I want that to stay as strong as possible. For their sake. If you can tell your kids a man on a sleigh is fashioning their Christmas list in a toy shop at the North Pole, I think you can put on a smile and find a silver lining in your ex-spouse.
7. I’ve never regretted being kind. I’ve done a lot of things in life that I wish I would have thought a little harder on. But being kind isn’t one of them. There’s a quote that says “Act in such a way that when someone hears something bad about you, they choose to not believe it.” We’ve all made mistakes, and we’ve all done things we wish we could take back. But if I can be kind in public and private to my kids’ dad; choose to only see the best in him; and treat him with the utmost respect I believe it reflects highly on me, my family and their dad. And that’s the road I want to take.
I’m going to leave you with a story that still breaks my heart to think about, but I think it’s worth sharing with the seven tips. This was years ago, not too long after I had first introduced my kids to Eli (my husband). We’d been dating about 6 months and Eli had brought over his XBox and was teaching the kids how to play a game. The boys were getting into it, starting to joke around with Eli and I could tell they were warming up to him. Right about that time their dad called to tell them “goodnight” and I went in the playroom to tell them that he was on the phone. My older son (who was about seven at the time) burst into tears. It didn’t take long to realize he was panicked his dad was going to be mad at him for hanging out with Eli. Much less enjoying himself.
I NEVER wanted to put that on my kids. EVER.
And their dad didn’t either.
Being a kid is hard. Being a kid and having the foundation of your childhood shattered is extra hard. We have these precious little people living in our care and there are areas where we’re going to fail. That’s part of it. But I believe in my soul that even after something as traumatic as divorce, God can breathe life into dry bones. He is a redeemer. The ultimate fixer upper. It takes humility, and grace, and time. When every part of your most sacred relationships are rocked, the wounds are deep. But I’m telling you, this is so worth it and can be the most precious gift to your children. This is not the end of your story and it shouldn’t be the biggest focus either. Good has been promised to you. Don’t miss it by spending your days focused on the bad.
“For I know the plans for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.”