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. By three years of time, however, the challenging issues that emerge in a blended family should still be going strong. Sometimes, it’s a sign of strength when a family’s problems are out into the open!
Here is the 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.
Here’s what Real Life is Like 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.
In short, problems multiply in a blended family, and they don’t always emerge and get resolved in a linear, permanent fashion.
Getting more comfortable with the chaos of problems that feed on each other in a complex web of dynamics, will help you start to tease things out. When multiple people are feeling neglected emotionally, misunderstood and unappreciated, things hurt.
Find someone who can hear everybody’s story, and understand how the distortions are playing out. If you can get everybody’s story straight in your head, you’re on your way to learning who is lonely, and why.
Keeping people company in their feelings, rather than trying to correct perceptions, is your best bet. So start by making sure that you’re not lonely in what you’re feeling, and then you can move along in your family, hearing feelings so they don’t get too out of hand.