Blended Families: Not Always "The Brady Bunch"
In May 2006, I married Herman. My son was 15 at the time, and I had raised him on my own since he was 2. Herman, a widower, had raised his 17-year-old daughter alone for 11 years. He also provided a home for the two young adult sons of his deceased wife.
Like so many other couples that take the leap into blended families, Herman and I shared an unwavering optimism that our love would conquer any problems that combining numerous kids and pets might create. In fact, bolstered by our kids' initial enthusiasm, we went a step further, convincing ourselves there would be no major problems at all.
We were wrong. Very wrong. After a brief honeymoon period, three of our kids turned an angry corner. They pronounced us crazy and condemned our union. Our lives became very difficult, and the sweeping joy of having found each other was overshadowed by our kids' combined fury.
In the anthology "My Father Married Your Mother: Dispatches from the Blended Family," a collection of essays by people who have experienced blended families, editor Anne Burt points out in her introduction the odds against such families succeeding are painfully high. Burt, an essayist and fiction writer and the senior public affairs officer for arts and culture at Columbia University, says, "Two-thirds of all remarried or cohabitating couples with children break up."
Those are pretty unpleasant statistics, and Herman and I have nearly become one of them. There is no doubt that our love for each other has remained intact and grown during our time together, but our children continue to struggle with our choice.
Burt says that, as the essays from writers came in for her book, she was surprised by her findings. "No matter how old someone is when a new stepparent or stepsibling comes into the picture -- and some of the writers in my book were well into adulthood with families of their own -- the change has a huge impact on every relationship. It's not just young children and teens who have to adjust, although the impact on them is arguably far greater."
Determined to make our marriage work despite the heavy odds, Herman and I have attempted some creative solutions. When his youngest turned 18, I moved back to my house, and now "share custody" of my husband with his kids until they graduate from high school and college and move out on their own. We have also, along with one of the kids, engaged the services of an outstanding family therapist.
Burt concurs that therapy is a good strategy. "I'm not a therapist, but I certainly recommend seeking one out, for everyone involved, if necessary. The most important factor, from what I can see, is if the couple can weather this together and act together to set rules for the children."
Burt adds that it's important for adults to bear in mind that children often have a hard time accepting a parent's new spouse. "I think it's a big challenge for the adults to remember that no matter how happy the union might be, every stepfamily is borne on the back of loss: whether through divorce, death, or other kind of abandonment. No stepfamily can be successful without acknowledgment of the grief that must be present."
Despite our major bumps, Herman and I remain optimistic. We've adjusted our hopes and expectations, moving toward working for calm, mutual respect among all family members, and away from some unrealistic "Brady Bunch" dream.