A continuing series on separation survival from those who have bravely gone there before you.
The ink on the settlement is long dry. The anger has dissipated. You’ve returned to the dating fold. My god, you’re having sex again (finally) – with someone who is not your ex!
The list of Things You Never Expected is long. They say divorce is the second worst thing a grown-up can go through. They’re right! But there is light at the end of the tunnel. Unfortunately, it is often cast by complicated kid arrangements navigated by prickly exes, grumpy teenagers who want exactly nothing to do with you, or young children who refuse to even acknowledge your presence.
There is no handbook for integrating a brand new cut & paste family. I have friends who stepped into “The Sound of Music” and felt like they were suddenly waking up with Colonel Von Trapp and his Viennese whistle. Others arranged their entire lives so that their melded families mixed about as much as oil and water. I’m not convinced either solution made for a happy new age brood.
I discovered my own set of utterly arbitrary rules, made up on the fly as my wife and I ventured down the road to ultimately marrying one another.
1.) Force nothing! This is not a natural situation. Enjoy the moments when you feel a bond developing. Walk away when there is resentment on the boil.
2.) Conquer and divide. Even your own kids don’t always get along. How can you expect 4 or 5 or 7 to do the same. Plan activities that encourage individual freedom and loads of room for disparate groups to break off.
3.) Listen with your ears, head and heart. The kids will adapt to this new household vibe only as well as you do. Pay attention to their signals and act on them.
4.) Be patient. There are going to be really awkward, if not outright bad times ahead. Step away when you know it’s not working and come back to play another day.
5.) Remember the DNA. That kid whose heart you are trying to win is still the offspring of the partner you have fallen in love with. They form a bond you have no chance of replicating. You do, however, get the chance to celebrate it. Sometimes just being there to bear witness to their growing relationship is the very best you can hope for.
The first time I met my stepdaughter-to-be she had about as much interest in me as bedtime or linguini with clam sauce (she was four!). Today, when she is in New York, she tracks me down for Ramen and art talk and friendship. It took a while, but at last I can say we are truly a blended family.