When I got divorced, it felt like I was jumping off a cliff and taking my children with me. I was the bad person now. I was to blame. I felt ashamed.
At the same time, my brother was also getting divorced, so my mother was going through the breakup of both her children's marriages—it was tough on her. My mother had raised us by herself with no help from my father. At that time, a single woman raising children on her own was practically unheard of.
When my mother finally saw both her children marry lovely people and have beautiful children of their own, she felt relieved that things had turned out well. But with two divorces pending, it was all coming apart. We were all so sad and angry. The children were in the middle of all this strife. My mother had always been my rock, but now she too was slipping off the cliff, we were all struggling.
I slowly pulled myself together and began thinking of my children's wellbeing. I once heard a woman, who was talking about her very young children after her divorce, say, "If I'm okay, then my children will be okay. If my needs are met, then I can take care of them." I think she had it backward. In my view, "If my children are okay, then I'll be okay. If my children's needs can be met, then I can take care of myself." This became my motto.
I had young children at home and they were at the mercy of me and my decisions. I made a lot of mistakes at first so I began my search for better role models and a better way to do this. We shifted our focus and, although divorced, we realized we were going to have to figure out how to be a family and how to develop a new family structure going forward.
My ex-husband and my mother had a very close relationship. He had become like another son to her, and they really loved each other. He helped to make our family stronger and more connected so we wanted to keep our family together as much as possible.
Most of all our children were looking for stability and reassurance so we did our best to be together as a family with the children on holidays and at school functions. Together, we helped each other meet our children's needs.
We did it for the sake of the children. We did it for the sake of the whole family. I did it for myself, too. We weren't married anymore, but we have children together and so we were still a family—and we needed the support of our extended family more than ever.
I remember thinking at some point that when people divorce, they leave each other, not the family. But that wasn't the message I was getting from my divorced friends or in the media.
According to them, divorce was supposed to be like a war zone. We didn't want to live like that, and we didn't want to subject our children to that either, so we began creating our own set of new rules to live by. It was the silver lining to a very dark cloud.
We had to be pioneers because we weren't seeing many examples of healthy post-divorce behavior around us. We really had to create a relationship based on our own sense of what was going to make our family thrive. I personally had to keep turning inward for direction on how to act, what to say, and how to go on from where I was. This self-reflection proved invaluable in the process of being a parent.
One of the first important things we did as parents of two children was to make it abundantly clear that just because one parent left their spouse, they did not leave the family. It is the grown-ups who are no longer able to live together.
It is so important to reassure the children that the love they feel for each parent is still reciprocated and the relationship between them and each parent is therefore strong and protected. I learned that it's so important to remember to help your children feel loved by both parents even if you are not feeling that way yourself.
As part of a blended family myself, I've learned it is best to take a conscious approach to this life. I've encountered all kinds of things that keep me growing and inspire me to turn inward in an effort to be more self-reflective.
It is not always easy, but over the years, I've realized that in our blended family, I'm just one leg of the table. I'm very important, but the other three legs are just as important for the table to be strong enough to hold all of us. I try to let everyone deal with what they are bringing to the table while I keep my focus on what I can bring.
I've adopted a meditation of sorts, these thoughts help keep me focused. It works for me:
If I can remember that I'm not always in control...
If I can give others grace when I feel trespassed upon...
If I can forgive and allow myself to have healthy boundaries...
If I can forgive and allow other family members to have healthy boundaries...
If I can speak up when I need to speak up...
If I can listen to others when I need to listen...
If I can avoid rushing in and pushing my agenda...
Then the family will find its own balance.
One of the things we chose to do differently from most of the family examples we were seeing was to gather as a family for holidays or special school events as well as birthday celebrations.
As long as our children were young and living at home with us, we chose to include all of us. We didn't trade off years or make the children choose where to go or whom to invite for a special occasion.
And my motto in those circumstances, if there is any discomfort, which there was, became: "If anyone is going to be uncomfortable in the room let it be me, not my children or other family members."
It is my divorce and I must take the initiative and bear the changes with mindfulness so that my family and my children can all be together for these times.
When the going gets tough, we help each other. Maybe it was out of necessity at first, but it soon became normal for us as we became a blended family. Instead of waging war, we have created and provided resources for each other and for our children. In this family, I continue to find grace, love and understanding.
Excerpt from Accepting Your Blended Family by Wendy Smith Baruc.