Blended Families and How to Cope
Blended families is a subject that people don’t like to talk about but statistically we know our society is going through. With fifty percent of new marriages ending in divorce I’m surprised this topic isn’t being talked about every day in the media. Fifty percent is a very scary figure. Especially for someone like myself, who comes from a broken home and has already been married once.
Currently, I am engaged. (If you want to get to know me real quick click here.) There’s a lot more to me than the fact that I have two children from a previous marriage and one child with my fiance.
Frank, my fiance, is an authoritative person naturally. He is very loud whether he’s happy, sad, angry or even sneezing. Myself, on the other hand, have a hard time being heard even if I’m standing a foot away from the person I’m talking to! I am also considerably more laid back than him. I grew up in a somewhat affluent neighborhood in Scottsdale and Frank is from a small town in New York. However, he is Italian. His father was born and raised in Palermo, Italy and his mother is a first generation American but both her parents are from Northern Italy. So, small town or not, he has very traditional values. On top of this, the neighborhood he grew up in (and didn’t leave until he was 20) was nothing even close to middle class. The stories he tells about prostitution outside his bedroom window and the segregation he witnessed as a small child in the 70’s makes you assume he grew up on the streets of Brooklyn!
But the values instilled in him were to work hard, play little, save more, spend less, expect a lot, trust no one except family, be true to your word, and leave a legacy behind that your children will be proud of. There is nothing wrong with most of those values. But those values are very hard to find in Arizona. The people here are generally known as laid back, non-confrontational, care-free and more about family than we are about working. There is also an 8 year age difference between Frank and I – him being older.
When you put the two of us together it creates a wonderful balance. But when it comes to the children we have very different levels of patience, tolerance and our ideals as parents.
Now that you understand a bit on where we both are coming from I can tell you that the hardest part of being in a blended family is when it comes to discipline. He thinks he should be able to discipline the girls on the spot right when he sees it. We have seen several therapists who have all told him it’s best for him to tell me so that I can do the disciplinary action. That’s’ how it was when I was growing up with my stepdad. He would never have stepped over my Mom to discipline me. If he had I would have laughed at him but that’s because I was much older than my girls are. I was a teenager.
On the other hand though, I do see the side that Frank is on. It’s his house, he needs to be respected also. But the thing is that I share custody with my ex husband. So their father is very much in their lives (3 days a week). Which makes it hard for Frank at all levels because they already have a Dad.
The girls don’t see (or hear) how bad of a father their real Dad is because I have never vented that frustration to them. They don’t know why their father has lived with his parents ever since we split, or why he hasn’t had a vehicle for the past 4 years. They don’t know why they eat mustard sandwiches at their Dad’s house (not kidding – he actually fed that to them) and steak at Mommy’s. Frank works tirelessly so that I can be home with the kids even though that was never our plan. But three years ago when I went to my attorney seeking more custody he told me that the best way to guarantee that was to quit my job and stay home. At the time, my ex was working very long hours but by the time the trial came around he quit working and told the Judge he was in school. The end result gave me the ridiculous outcome we have now.
Also, to show you the extent of evil we have had to endure by my ex, he maliciously accused Frank of striking my youngest daughter in the face with his fist. (She was four at the time and you could tell her that the sky was red and she would think that the sky was red). This incident happened on Memorial Day two years ago – a day before his contempt hearing. Memorial Day weekend in Arizona is known to be spent either in a pool or a nearby lake. The girls were in three different pools during the long weekend and Britney is very fair skinned. She had what doctors later diagnosed her with as contact dermatitis caused by pool chlorine. When their father picked them up he saw 2 small red blotches under her eye, then went to the grocery store, went home to his mother who immediately saw an opportunity to drive a wrench right through my heart and my family so they called 911 (3 hours after the exchange). Frank was then arrested within 90 minutes.
Then because the contempt hearing was the very next day, the Judge would not hear anything about this new accusation. She wanted to set an exclusive hearing for just this accusation but didn’t see that it was an urgent matter so she immediately ordered Frank not be at home when the kids were there. Then on Father’s Day we found out I was pregnant with Frankie! To add to it, I was already four months along with a due date in December.
My attorney wanted a clean custody case so he was working only on my custody case and wanted a criminal attorney to handle this other accusation. This in itself, pushed the process even longer because the criminal attorney we hired had much worse cases he was dealing with. Long dramatic story short, Frank was gone for 6 months and both judges (in the criminal court and family court) ruled that my ex acted with “malice intent” and proved without a doubt that Frank never struck Britney in any way shape or form.
It was hard to see any silver lining in the clouds during that difficult time. But after it was all over we realized that those 6 months did wonders for us as a family unit. Prior to this, the girls never had a chance to miss Frank. Both girls would draw him pictures, write him letters, tell me to tell him the sweet things they say about him. He came home the day before Thanksgiving and when I went to go get the girls and bring them home to him they jumped out of the car, ran inside and jumped into Frank’s arms and didn’t let go for what seemed like an eternity. Every one of us cried, (especially me being 8 months pregnant)!
This goes to show you the good in Frank’s heart and also that he is still by our sides willing to do whatever it takes to keep our family in tact. We battle daily the pessimistic behavior that the girls witness at their Dad’s house so we’ve learned that as long as he and I are a united front that we will end up coming out on top … hopefully the girls will take after us. And we never talk bad about their father … in front of them.
Blended families can survive. Since he came home, we implemented family night every Monday (but no, we are not Mormon). The girls love it. I also started taking them somewhere on Saturday nights when I get them back from their father. That way it gives them something to look forward to while they’re gone and it also makes them anxious to come home! As far as discipline goes we have a ‘chore board’ that we update each week. This makes it easy for us to keep track of “wages earned” (we don’t call it an allowance because that implies they are entitled to it) and also if chores don’t get done there is a corresponding consequence. We have very much a team oriented home with everyone accountable and responsible for holding up their end of the bargain. The girls feel needed and they know what is expected of them.
I am blessed to have Frank in my/our life and I know that the girls will come to realize the same thing in time. Together we’ll do this. I know we can. I have learned to be more constant and unwavering in regards to disciplining and he has learned to tolerate more and recognize that with children you have to tell them everything at least 2000 times before they’ll remember it!
This family will not be a failed statistic. Guaranteed!