(See picture: first row, second from the right)
“I’ve decided that I want to go live with my dad.” The words coming out of the mouth of my sixteen year old son caught me completely off guard. Kyle was the youngest of eight children that my husband and I had blended over nine years ago. He was the only child still living at home with us.
I remember on our wedding day my mother-in-law saying, “You won’t believe how quickly these kids will grow up and leave home.” At that time, it felt like what she said wasn’t going to happen until sometime in the distant future. About two weeks after our wedding though, that distant future couldn’t arrive soon enough for me. Mike and I found ourselves in the midst of a struggle that we had never expected.
Mike was like a breath of spring air when he came into my life. Single parenting was tough. The days were long, beginning the moment my feet hit the floor in the morning and ending when I fell exhausted into bed at night. Along with trying to keep up with the schedules of four active sons, I did daycare, cleaned offices and helped my boys with their press routes. Mike swept me off my feet with flowers, beautiful love letters and dinners at restaurants I had only dreamed of dining at. I floated from spring into the warm, sunny days of summer. Mike and I fell madly in love and by fall we felt like we were ready to get married.
The date was set, and in preparation for our big day, we attended a remarriage workshop. We also joined a Sunday School Class for remarried couples at the church we attended. Since seven of the eight children we were about to blend were teenagers, we thought it would be a good idea to have a little knowledge about all this blended family stuff before we got married.
In spite of all of our preparations, we had in our minds an “I can conquer anything” attitude. Nothing was going to stop us from hurtling forward. “Step parenting can’t be that much different than parenting?” We reasoned to ourselves. “Our kids get along well together, seem to like us and after all, we are offering them a better life, aren’t we?”
On our wedding day, we had eyes only for each other while thinking thoughts of happily ever after. Neither of us noticed the looks of animosity we received from our future stepchildren or the bitter tone in their voice when they spoke to us. We left for a blissful honeymoon that lifted us out of the stressful existence of single parenting forever.
Nothing prepared us for the turmoil we encountered when we came home. There were glaring differences in our rules and parenting style. This triggered many fights between us on an almost daily basis. At first I would say to myself, “at least this is easier that single parenting.” After about six months I was saying, “Single parenting was easier”.
Focused sharply in my memory is a day six months after our wedding. I was standing in our kitchen formulating a plan on how I could escape with my children. We were miserable as a couple, our kids were miserable with us and each other. But, I had nowhere to go. Thinking it would be a good idea to have a bedroom for each child, we had sold both of our homes to purchase a very large home together. This also burned any bridges we could cross to revert back to our former life as single parents. That moment was pivotal as I made a decision to plant my feet like they were in cement blocks and stay. There would be no retreat now.
The years marched slowly by. Two years into our remarriage, Mike and I were surprised to find ourselves fighting over minor issues like what time to set the alarm clock for or which side of the bed had the most blankets every morning when we woke up. Most couples resolve these minor quarrels in the first two weeks of marriage. Blended family issues had so overwhelmed those years that we were only just starting to adjust to each others little quirks.
After five years we breathed a big sigh of relief grateful the years were behind us and never wanting to go through them again. Although finding the extra time was tough, throughout the stormy years, we never lost sight of how important it was to keep our own relationship in the forefront of the lives we were building together. We cultivated a support network with other blended families. We started bike riding together and had regular date nights.
Now, nine years into our remarriage came the unexpected announcement from my son to move to his dad’s house. It would leave us with the empty nest my mother-in-law had predicted on our wedding day. It was true; the kids had all grown up and moved out quickly.
One of the reasons my son stated for moving, was his relationship with his step father. Kyle didn’t like all the rules. Mike didn’t see anything wrong with the rules. His desire was to be a good father to my sons, blessing them. Step children don’t always see it that way. They sometimes look at their step parent as the enemy. It is so hard to shape and mold a stepchild and have them see it as a good thing. And in the case of our children, if they don’t like it at our house, they can run to their other parents’ home.
Mike was upset by the strain and conflict in his relationship with Kyle. I was torn between loyalty toward my son and loyalty toward my husband. A heart divided causes a house divided. Once again we were surprised by the intensity of blended family battles. After days of conflict, we were exhausted and questioned once again the goodness that we hoped to bring into each other’s lives and the lives of our children. We had great intentions going into this marriage and yet, what difference had we made.
On a day out, we ran into another remarried couple. Our son’s decision was in the forefront of our minds, so we talked to them about it. They had experienced similar conflicts and declared that if faced with the decision to marry again, they never would have done so. In fact, they counsel many couples not to remarry.
I thought about the difficulties we had faced blending our family. I rehearsed in my mind all the struggles we had encountered along the way, still stinging from our most recent wound. My thoughts shifted from what was broken in our lives, to what we had blended. I thought of what we had built and shared together. Together our children had gone to a good school. Through that experience they became friends with each other. Now they were our friends too. We had invented new family traditions that our children look forward too each year. Remodeling our home became one of our hobbies. We had built a business and worked together. We ministered and enjoyed attending the same church. I thought of the man sitting next to me who had journeyed with me through it all. He had trudged beside me lovingly, supporting me and sharing the burden of parenting. I thought about the fun we had together anytime we were alone. I grabbed Mike’s hand and said, “If I had to make the decision all over again, I still would have married you.” We smiled and he replied, “I would have married you all over again too.”
Linda Otis has been a mother for 25 years and became a stepmother over nine years ago when she agreed to marry her current husband Mike. Mike & Linda live in Byron Center, MI.