The Modern Day Blended Family

Small talk in client meetings has an added edge for me. You know the drill – desperate for sound in a sterile board room before the masses file in for that new business pitch (you are there with people you don’t know). What do you discuss? OH, YOU have kids too? How old? How many? My response however sometimes causes more silence, though.

“I have three kids.”

No one appears to freak at my statement.

“Well, my son is 19, my daughter is 16 and…”

Oh, yes, teenagers, mumble the other participants…hmmm well…we’ve all been there…

“..and my daughter is 4.”

Oh!…Sort of an oops there, eh?

“Well, yes…my first wife can be seen as one I guess.”

It’s what I call the blended family.

We’ve come a long, long way from the Brady Bunch and that’s not a bad thing. I mean, really, have you seen those old episodes today? Freaky. That’s why they call it “Hollyweird,” friends.

My current wife and I have been married more than 8 years and Maggie, the perceived “oops” was nothing of the kind. Throughout the whole time – including dating, honeymoon stage, marriage – the teen kids (before they were such) have been a major part of that relationship. It was a priority for me and my now-wife.

Now, with a new baby sister in the fold, the dynamics are simple: Age of the kid isn’t the issue; you are all the same – there’s no “step”; there’s just “us.”

And, let’s face it: Teenagers and toddlers have some of the same stream of rollercoaster random emotions, don’t they? It’s all drama at those ages. One freaks because of a mid-term. Another because the Thomas The Tank Engine DVD has a fingerprint on it. The keys to success take work. Here are some basic elements for dad’s in this situation of the blended family:

1) Maintain a good relationship with the Ex.

I have been very fortunate to have divorced someone who is a good mom. We both recognized early on in the whole divorce process that the kids come first, not us. That’s rare. We are a corporation and the product and brand of that are the kids.

I am at my ex-wife’s house every other night to do homework with the kids, attend school/sport/band events, have the kids at my house every other weekend. I also support my ex in parenting. Sometimes I have to play the heavy. Sometimes she does.

My choices in my career are rooted in the kids – that keeps me in town despite some interesting offers. And, my choices as to where I live also keeps me close by so I can do those parenting things described. My kids have said they see more of my ex and I than their friends with married parents see of their moms and dads. That’s a huge statement. It didn’t happen by accident. It’s a lot of work. Though I know it’s possible and I’m proof.

2) Support from your current spouse is crucial.

I couldn’t have the relationship with my kids if I didn’t have someone at home who understood why they are important. My wife lived in a divorced household and to this day her Mom and Dad still don’t get along. I was fortunate to find someone who saw the other side. I also found someone who recognized my need to balance a multitude of relationships. When the teens are at our home, they feel they are home. They are used to it because we built that environment with them in mind.

3) Spend time with each child.

All three of our kids know they are loved. If it’s a night I go see the teens, I go right from work, spend some time, get home in time to put Maggie to bed. On the nights I don’t go to the teens, they get a call from the house where I spend time with Maggie.  During a Michigan winter the frequent driver miles I accumulate are a bit challenging. But remember what I said about houses being nearby…and priorities?

Ironically, when my teens were becoming adults and seeking out more independence e.g., maybe not wanting to be with mom and dad so much, I had a baby who needs/wants more time. A natural balance went into effect as a result. The key was not trading one set of kids for another. It’s just a matter of recognizing the changing needs. For instance, when the teens are over, they may not get up before 11:30 a.m. and Maggie may be ready for a nap by 12:30 p.m. It’s a bit of a shift change at my house. But, beautifully, it’s a natural changing of gears in how you spend time together.

I wouldn’t trade my life, my wife, my experiences or my kids of varying ages. There is no life that doesn’t present challenges. The critical part is the light bulb going off as to what’s truly important in the face of the challenges.

Like the Hallmark frame in my office says:

“Priorities – A hundred years from now, it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in or the kind of car I drove..but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child.”

If you can find someone who gets what’s important while you are taking care of those people who are important, that’s what is important.

Next time you are a meeting or a cocktail party and someone fills the conversation void by saying “I have a couple of teenagers and a boy/girl who is just starting pre-school,” don’t assume someone goofed. Give them the benefit of the doubt that maybe they have their priorities right.

— Sam Locricchio

1 Response to “The Modern Day Blended Family”

  1. 1 Anonymous April 6, 2011 at 1:25 pm

    Great advice, Sam! I feel blessed that my parents put us kids as the priority and not their differences. This type of philosophy is not only healthy for the the kids, but a healing factor for the parents.

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