As the Mom of a large blended family I am regularly asked, “How do you guys do it?” How do you keep this family going with all of the ups and downs, all of the challenges that go along with being parents of eight children including several who have different combinations of parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents? Well, to tell you the truth it isn’t easy and there are days that I ask myself the same question.
To let you in on a little secret, it is because -thankfully – we are not in this alone. The support of our family and friends has been tremendous over the years and I believe that has been the key to our family’s success. Sure, we have our crazy weeks, our “how did I get myself into this mess” days and “why me?” moments but, for the most part, getting through those times together has only served to strengthen our family and recognize our commitment to making our home a happy and healthy one for all of us.
One of the reasons I began writing about blended families was to give people a window into our lives and bring out some of the challenges we encounter when blending a family in the “frum” world. I wanted to help sensitize the people that we come across in our daily lives; friends, relatives, co-workers, employees and school administrators to help them understand some of the unique and, sometimes, difficult situations we face.
My feedback from readers is a strong indication that my family is not unique. On some level or another most blended families encounter and struggle with many of these same issues. Every family is different and the blended family certainly lends itself to many variables, but one thing I believe we all have in common is that none of us had expected our lives to turn out like this way, back when we were under the chupah – the marriage canopy – the first time around.
Our hopes, dreams, and expectations took a turn somewhere and new hopes, dreams and goals had to be created. Dealing with the change, readjusting our world, and finding that, although things are different than what we had originally planned, we believe we have been given a second chance at happiness.
As I said, even with our “commitment” to a strong family and happy personal life based on Torah values, there is no way my husband and I would be successful in raising this blended family without the help of our respective family and friends. From a financial standpoint alone, it is difficult to blend two families that have each gone through the legal process; “WARNING: divorce isn’t cheap!”
There are lawyer’s fees, processing and filing fees, often, psychological evaluations or testing of the children and parents – which can continue post-divorce for many years and costs a small fortune. If remarriage is within a short timeframe from divorce the new couple is usually strapped with debt before they even begin to build their home together. Add to that, the emotional strain of beginning a family – not with the honeymoon, starry-eyed bliss of a young couple in “love” – but as a family with defined roles and personalities and individuals who have been through a very trying time in order to get to this point.
On a scale of one to ten for “optimal marital bliss”, these happy couples are starting somewhere about a negative 5 and need a lot of hard work, commitment, and support from family and friends, not to mention Divine intervention in order to make it. My husband and I feel quite fortunate to have that support from our family, especially our parents who have always been there for us – and not only with financial support (but that helps, too!)
What I personally find so meaningful is that whenever I speak with my father he has some words of praise about my husband and that, in turn, enhances our shalom bayit. Positive reinforcement, or recognition that we get from our families and friends – as they noticed the efforts we made in overcoming some issue or another as our two families merged into one – gave us tremendous “chizuk”, strength to live up to the challenge and it still rings true today.
I recently received an e-mail note filled with loving and kind words about our family, from a close friend. She pointed out details about the children that show she really noticed them and how they are doing. Her words lifted my spirits, just to know there are people out there rooting for us and recognizing the extra effort it takes to overcome the challenge of raising a blended family. Hearing that your family and friends understand and support you and your spouse and that they accept his children as well as your own, strengthens your relationship as a couple and your connection to the family. Our family and friends, over the years, have been kind enough to listen and give sound advice even if they have never walked in our shoes.
So if you know a blended family, show that you care; be there to listen and to support them. If you are a blended family, it is very important to surround yourselves with people that lend that support, are rooting for you and wishing you well (but realize that although others may not always understand, that does not necessarily mean that they don’t care). That type of positive force is important to the success of any marriage, but in this writer’s opinion, is the essential key to the success of the blended family.
Yehudit welcomes feedback and questions and would love to include blended family experiences from her readers in future articles. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org