Saturday, December 31, 2011

They're the Twins We Never Had

Statistics show that by 2010, blended families would be the most common type of family in America.  In fact, one in three Americans is currently a stepparent, a stepchild or some other member of a blended family.  In addition, more than half of all Americans have been or will eventually be in one or more step situations in their lifetime.  So, as we enter into 2012, why do I feel such embarrassment and shame when I mention....we're a blended family?

The conversation usually goes something like this:

How many kids do you have?  We have three. Wow!  How old are they?  Eighteen, Seventeen, and Seventeen.  All Teenagers!  You don't look old enough to have teenagers!  I'm not! (grin) (my thoughts:  OK, obviously I am, but I don't feel like it.)  Wow and twins!  You have twins?!  Well, they're the twins we never had....they're actually one month apart in age, exactly one month.  (pause for effect) We're blended family.

There I said it.  The cat is out of the bag.  Now they know...we're not perfect. We screwed up at some point in our lives and now we are in this less than perfect situation. We're just trying to make the best of it and do the best we can with our kids and our family but then inevitably, we are reminded that we are different.

Are we really that different though?  According to the statistics we are the norm.  In fact, we are more normal than a traditional family. I think the difference is, no one wants to admit they are in a blended family unless they have to. There is such a stigma and stereotype attached to it and so no one wants to admit they are one.  We all hide out pretending to be a traditional family until someone calls us on it:  Where is so and so today?  Oh, uh, they're at their other parent's.  Your daughter doesn't look anything like you.  Yeah, uh, she's actually my step-daughter.  How long have you been married?  Seven years, we're a blended family.  I think we are afraid people will look down us because we have been divorced.  The reality is, many people are in our same situation, we just don't know it.  We also don't always know how to deal with all the intricacies of our circumstances, so we try to pretend they don't exist but in doing so, set ourselves up for failure. 

I don't think anyone enters into their new blended family with the intentions of it failing but over 70 % of all second (or third) marriages involving children end within 5 1/2 years.  I may already be included in the previous statistics but I refuse to become a part of this one.  The difference needs to be knowing you are not alone.  Get to know other families like yours, it helps to have friends who understand your situation.  Know where to go to get the help you need to make your blended family work.  Here are couple of great websites with resources: 
The Bonded Family 
The Smart Stepfamily

I hope you find them helpful.

We might have not have done thing perfectly the first time, but we can make changes and do things right the second time.  Believe it or not, even folks in a traditional family don't do everything perfectly either.  Don't be afraid or ashamed to boast about your blended family, be proud of who you are.  Remember, even Jesus had a step-father, and he turned out OK.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

My Christmas Wish

Here we are heading into the week before Christmas.  Our plans are made for times when we don't have our kids and plans are made for when we have them all.  As I think about the upcoming celebrations and sit back and look at the big picture of life I realize that family is foundational and so I am casting my Christmas wish.

I think that in any family it is easy for members to take sides.  There might be jokes about which child is the parent's favorite, and maybe some siblings are closer to than others.  In a blended family, I think that some of that separation can be magnified and might even turn into more of a "them versus us" situation.  It is natural to be closer to certain people than others but don't let that divide your clan.

I see these separations all around me.  A few years ago I got so frustrated with my own siblings that they don't get along better.  I don't understand why the opposition exists, it just does and I wish it didn't.  Today, I saw a similar type of division with my nieces, who grew up in a blended family situation.  There was an obvious tendency to "stick to ones own blood."  Don't get me wrong, no one is rude or mean to each other.  Its not as though I see fist fights breaking out at family functions, I just see a  separation...division...disconnection.  Its sad.

So my Christmas wish is this:  I wish that as my children become adults and have more of an opportunity to choose who they include in their lives and who is important to them, they remember that the three of them are family.  Family matters and family is always there for you.  It doesn't matter how they became a family or who their other parents are, the three of them are family and family sticks together.  They don't have to be the best of friends, I just hope that they don't divide into "them vs. us."  We have worked so hard to have an equal playing ground for all and we see them as three individuals who help us make up one great family.  I hope they see that too, and my Christmas wish is that they keep it that way.   Merry Christmas!

P.S.:  If you will be alone (or even if you're not) on Christmas Day and would love a wonderfully cooked FREE Christmas Dinner and hang out with a bunch of awesome folks (in Kalamazoo, MI)  please come to the Valley Family Church Christmas dinner from 4pm-7pm on Christmas Day.  For more information go to: or call 269-324-5599 for more details.

Friday, December 9, 2011

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year....

I just love the Christmas and holiday season.  I love the music and the lights.  I love the food and the gatherings.  Everyone's so happy and friendly with each other.  Well...just about everyone.  I mean we all could get along, and we all should get along, but at this time of the year we are also very concerned about getting what we want.  At this time of year what we want is our kids and we want them when we want them.

You know what I'm talking about (and if you don't keep reading).  Its the stress of figuring out the holiday sharing schedule.  Some parents have a rotating schedule set up that works great for them, others have to negotiate times each year.  Everyone wants the kids and no one wants to give in.   This weekend is Aunt Suzie's and next weekend we're at Grandma's.  You can't have them Christmas because we're always over there.  You can have them this Wednesday, next Friday and maybe Monday.  Why is it at this time of year that they are in such high demand?  Why isn't it so important the other 364 days of the year?  Well, for whatever reason it is important, so lets figure out what to do to make it easy on everyone, or at the very least, easy on the kids.

I have to admit that we have a few celebrations we don't like to miss, and over the years we have had to learn how to finagle, beg, negotiate and forgive.  For the big Christmas celebration, we used to switch back and forth with the other parents.  One year we would have the kids for Christmas Eve, and the next for Christmas Day.  Since we deal with two sets of other parents, however, and we like to have our whole family together on one of those days to celebrate, we have had to do some fancy fast talking to get everyone on the same rotation. 

Our first Christmas together we begged and pleaded with the other parents to allow us to have the kids on Christmas Eve. It was our first Christmas in our new house and we actually moved Christmas Eve day.  We wanted our kids to be there on the first day in our new home.  It was exciting and chaotic and the other parents obliged.  The only thing we could find to cook was spaghetti and our new dining room table had not yet arrived, so after an exhausting day we ate a Christmas Dinner of spaghetti, on the floor in our new home.  It is a memory we will never forget. 

Another year, we chose to take our kids to Disney World as their Christmas gift.  We actually left after Christmas (mostly so we didn't find a horse's head in our bed) and offered the other parents to have the day of their choice since we would be gone for a week.  Here is Roger and the kids in Narnia at MGM.

For the most part things have worked out pretty easy...up until a couple of years ago.  For whatever reason, there was some miscommunication between Christian's dad and I.  He was under the impression that he got Christian each Christmas Eve, since that is when his family celebrates Christmas at his mother's house.  I was under the impression that we were still switching back and forth each year, with the exception of the aforementioned years.  When I approached him (via email) regarding Christmas plans, and when we would drop Christian off that Christmas morning, all hell broke loose.  I couldn't believe what I was reading.  There were no negotiations, there were no friendly requests, there were demands, there were expectations, there was anger and loathing.  I felt sick to my stomach, I was Christmas was ruined.  I wanted to stick to my guns:  We had an agreement!  and I did.  I mean it wasn't right; it wasn't fair.  I wasn't getting what I wanted.  Then I talked to a friend.  She told me a story about how she used to have the same unsettled feeling each Christmas.  There used to be all the back and forth with her ex. It created unrest in their family and most of all her (I thought about how familiar this sounded). So one year they decided to celebrate Christmas on a different day entirely. They did the whole shebang.  They pretended it was Christmas Eve the night before, woke up to filled stockings, had their Christmas dinner.  So she started a new tradition which was, there was no tradition, every year was different, from when they celebrated to what they did.  I liked it.  We tried it. It worked. We had Christmas Eve AND Christmas Day with our kids (two days before the 25th)...AND...they got to celebrate the same with their other parents. The best news was, I wasn't stressed anymore, and Christian wasn't caught in the middle.  Sure, I "lost the battle", but I won the war, because I don't let the day stress me out anymore.

We're still going with our non-tradition tradition each year. We allow the kids some choice and let them tell us when they are going to celebrate with their other parents, and then make our plans from there.  I understand this might not work out if you have younger kids in your blended family, and a set schedule might work best.  As our kids have gotten older, however, we want it to still be fun for them, not stressful, and we can be flexible.  We figure it will only get more complicated as they introduce significant others and spouses into the mix, so let's not get bogged down.  The date doesn't need to dictate when we celebrate Christmas.  'Tis the season, so let's keep it in perspective. It's not a time of want; it is a time for family, fun and to celebrate the birth of our Lord.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Holiday Cheer and Fears

Here we are at the holiday season.  Thanksgiving is over and we are right onto the Christmas countdown.  I have to admit I have been putting off writing this week's post.  I think partly because this can be a somewhat stressful time of year.  I love the holiday season - the lights, the food, friends, family.  It's cozy and fun, but in a blended family the holidays can also bring disagreement, arguments, negotiations and stress.

 A friend at work was lamenting about her extended family holiday stress due to some disagreements and unresolved issues from last year.  I'm not going to go into the details, but as she was sharing with me I couldn't help to think to myself, yes but at least you don't have to give up your kids for part of your Christmas.  I don't mean to minimize her issues, I am sure they are very real and frustrating.  My point is just that every year we must accept that our kids will spend time away from us at a time when the world is focusing on family and fun the most.  Over the next few weeks leading up to Christmas I hope to spotlight a few different issues that have come up in our family over the holidays and how we have dealt with them in hopes that they will help you too.  If you have an issue you would like to me to address or comment on, please feel free to post a question in the comments section. 

Today I want to encourage you that if you are in a blended family and will spend some time without your children over this season (whether with a spouse or alone) make a plan.  This is my goal each holiday season.  In fact, I have a folder that I file away until November of each year, which includes articles I have read about things to do, plan, or ways to keep your mind off of being with alone or without children over the holidays.  If you are a friend or family member of someone in a blended family, my suggestion to you is to keep your hearts and doors open to these folks, and most of all be flexible with them.  We don't always have a choice or say in when we have our kids for the holidays and it doesn't help to relieve our stress when we also feel like we have to fit into someone else's schedule.  My parents have always been fantastic with this.  Each Christmas they have been willing to work around our schedule. We have the kids Christmas Eve, they are there to celebrate.  If we don't have them until Christmas night, the folks are there to share.  It has helped us so much to lessen the anxiety we already feel.

Here are some of the things we do to prepare for that time away from our kids.  We plan a night out to eat or a mid-morning brunch.  Sometimes with family, sometimes alone.  We make it a fun adventure, something to really look forward too, although one year we ended up eating at McDonald's because we didn't plan too well and realized everything else was closed at 5pm on Christmas Eve.  We also donate blood at a big holiday American Red Cross blood drive.  It's fun.  There are a ton of people there, they have really good food when we're done, and we feel like we're doing something good.  This year we have volunteered to help serve Christmas dinner at our church.  These are often things that we plan to do and if we have the kids, great - they can join us, but if they are not home, that is OK too.  Sometimes we just have a fire in the fireplace, listen to Christmas music, and play games.

So here is what I leave with you today:  Make a plan.  If you know when your kids will be gone, then plan something for those times.  Spend time with family and friends, or if you must be alone, figure out what you can do to keep yourself busy.  Maybe wrap presents or go to a movie.  Invite another friend over who is in your same situation, I am sure they would love the company as well.  If you don't get much alone time, relish it. Take a bubble bath with candles or workout to your heart's content.  Do things that make you happy, and when your kids leave, wish them well, don't let your sadness ruin their time with their other parent. After all, you want them to have a great Christmas, and your being alone or without them is not their fault nor their problem, so don't make them feel like it is. 

Remember, at a time when you might not feel like you have a friend in the world, I know that you are surrounded with goodness and light.  I understand how it feels, so trust me when I say, it will be a very happy holiday season and you will have a very Merry Christmas!