The past seven years of my life have looked a little something like this: happy marriage and sweet baby … turned affair, betrayal, and double life … skip to divorce, grief, and healing … and now, finding love again, an amazing second marriage, and blending all of the above. Successfully navigating through the past seven years has been tricky at best and now, the co-parenting dynamic in a blended family is no different. The complexities that go into the relationships that now make up our new family unit run deep. This has a lot working against us at times. We, however, are all working for one thing, our daughter. So, in my experience, here’s what has helped the most.
We Leave the Past Where it Belongs
More often than not the reason people arrive in a blended family is the product of heartache and trauma. At least two people in the co-parent foursome have experienced the pain of their divorce and that takes serious time and healing to recover from. Taking that time to grieve is crucial in how you’ll operate parenting together. Our magic number was three years. During that time, no one had re-married quite yet, allowing for some focused healing, forgiveness, and mourning the losses that came from the divorce. This time set us up to interact on a healthier level for the sake of our daughter. By the time remarriage was on the table there had been enough time and healing in place to move forward. And what to do with that extra water under the bridge? Make the choice not to drown in it. As co-parents it’s not about your former marriage, it’s about your child(ren).
We Keep the Lines Open
Aside from how we all arrived here, if there’s one thing we can all agree on present day it’s that we want to raise our daughter to be the best little human, thriving in every way possible. Talk about common interest! We could all go on and on about the funny things she says, how amazing her latest painting was, and how proud we are of who she is at only six years old.
As a parent, I will say, hands down the most lingering pain of divorce is sharing your child. From missing the major firsts to simply not getting to tuck them in every night. It gets really sad if you keep your focus there. The ways we soften the blow are a whole lot of pictures, videos, and updates in our “team sweetie” group text that the four of us have going. I missed my daughter’s first flight this past summer, but the video her bonus mom sent me was as second best as it could possibly get. I watched that video on repeat, and it made my heart so happy knowing that she was experiencing this first with a set of parents who love her as much as I do.
This solidarity doesn’t just apply to the joyful and gushy moments of parenting, it’s just as important (if not more) when dealing with the challenges. The behavior issues, the discipline, the consequences, the consistency in all of it … and if you’re a parent, you know that the list goes on. Once you’ve semi-handled one stage of your child, they throw you for a loop and it’s something brand new to deal with. We keep our rules and expectations as identical as humanly possible across the households. And with this, we are all in the know about everything that goes on. If there’s a behavior issue at one house, we all know. At school or soccer practice, we all know. She knows she’ll get the same answer, consequence, reward and so on from each one of us. She knows that we all talk and share and that between the four of us, she can’t get away with much.
We’ve found that there is an exception to the parenting rule when your child is one of a blended family. Some days, they need a little grace when going back and forth from household to household (and that’s okay). They aren’t robots and we can’t expect for them to act like ones. We notice more emotional outbursts and acting out in our daughter when she goes from house to house. She doesn’t express exactly what she’s feeling, but there’s something she’s processing internally that’s beyond us. Do we let her get away with murder? No, but we are mindful that there is an adjustment period needed at times. We give her that space to settle into one environment, family dynamic, and set of parents to the next.
We All Show Up
Softball games, parent-teacher conferences, dance recitals, school meetings, soccer practice, birthday parties, preschool graduations … We all show up, all the time. We continually show her that she is not only lucky enough to have the love, support, and encouragement from mommy and daddy, but also from her two bonus parents. She will never be short on love or support, that’s for sure. We also show her all of our different strengths and interests and see if they spark anything in her. Whether a child has two parents or four, personalities and passions will differ. Children will find that in certain seasons they’ll relate better to one than the next. We hope that she sees what each of us bring to the table separately as something that helps guide her. Parent to parent will always look a tad different, but what looks the same is the consistency of love and support our child receives. Our daily choice to all stay united and show up for our daughter trumps every reason the past has tried to divide us. We choose day after day to be the adults, to show up, and to ensure our daughter always has the loudest cheering section at the softball game.
We Respect Each Other (and our new family units)
As much as it benefits our daughter to be a united blended family, we are still big on developing and fostering each individual family unit. She has separate outings, traditions, and routines for each household. This gives life to each family unit on its own. Yes, we are blending and co-parenting, but we need each side to have its own individual foundation. We respect that in the other. It’s easy to have that sense of “I was here first” when watching an ex-spouse start over. However, this is not the hand we were dealt, nor is it the attitude we should carry. Point one on repeat. We leave the past where it belongs, and let our new families start over and grow. We keep our communication about our daughter and nothing else. We give each family unit the necessary space. If our daughter misses any one of us or wants to talk/facetime while she’s at the other household, we always allow her to, but we also try to respect the time she’s spending with each set of parents.
Her relationships look different with each one of us and we all respect that as well. No one is out to replace or compete against each other. We respect our daughter’s feelings towards each one of us and find joy in the relationship she has with each of us individually. We each take her out on solo dates, we spend time with her in our separate family units, and we spend time all together. Each facet of time spent is respected, encouraged, and important.
Divorce doesn’t end family life; it reorganizes it. The points made above are all daily choices we make FOR our daughter. Some days there are triggers of the past or painful memories that work against our choice, but we don’t let them win. All in all, we keep our heads above that water left under the bridge and focus on that greater good our child deserves.