I am not a therapist. I am speaking here only from experience, but I get asked the same questions about my marriage over and over.
My husband and I are part of the fastest-growing demographic in the US — the blended family. So it makes sense that there are many women (and some men) curious about my marriage. An estimated two-thirds of all women will be a part of a blended family in their lifetime.
The main questions I get asked are: How do you make it work? And is it worth it?
Here is how I always answer: First, marriage is never easy. My first marriage was a disaster as were my husband’s first three, but somehow we rose above our separate relationship demons to create a happy and relatively normal blended family, which is made up of three children, two dogs, two rabbits, a tortoise and a horse.
And second, it is totally worth it. I did not even really want to have children until I became a stepmom and realized how much I loved being a parent — in my case, a full=time step-parent.
But I am getting ahead of myself.
I met my husband, Phil Bronstein, in 2003 through our divorce attorney. This is what I have learned over the last eight years:
Lay down the law. Get your parenting rules and style agreed upon before you walk down any aisle — even an airplane aisle — together. Who disciplines (him for at least a year), how you discipline, who is responsible for which kid-related duties, what are the rules around meals and food, what are the rules about technology and do you have date nights when you have visitation are all issues you need to address.
Rewrite your vows. The vows for becoming a blended family should be changed to: “I will love you and your child and I will honor you and your child all the days of my life.” Marrying a man with a child (or children) means that you are also entering into a life with that child (and that child’s mother) for as long as you both shall live. You are agreeing to love that child like your own, while respecting that there are two other parents who have all the legal rights. His vows should include, “I honor the added responsibility you are taking on and will do all I can to respect and appreciate that.” We bought a matching wedding ring for my stepson when we got married to include him in our marriage.
Get sporty. Custody disputes do not have to tear you apart. They can in fact bring you closer to your partner. We went through four and a half years of pretty constant legal issues and we managed to do it in a way that brought us closer together. Each legal letter strengthened our marriage. It was our team sport for those years. No time for tennis, just working hard to make good decisions for my stepson and for our whole family as best we could. Clocking many hours lobbing late-night emails and enduring endless evaluations together. It sometimes felt like a combat sport, but nonetheless we did not let it come between us.
Respect insanity. If you have the good fortune to follow in the footsteps of someone who is wacky, mean, or generally unstable (these are very common traits in divorcing people), know that this is not a negative. It is a fantastic benefit to you because no matter how wacky or unstable you may get from time to time, the bar has been set so low that you will always look sane. Even when you are PMSing, screaming obscenities at the TV, crying into your Ben & Jerry’s — or, in my case, throwing an éclair at a beeping car — I promise you will be rewarded with the benefit of being seen by your mate as wonderfully normal even at your worst.
Call in the cavalry. Bringing in experts before any parenting or relationship problems escalate is imperative. More than 70 percent of blended family marriages end in divorce. These complicated relationships require more adult supervision due to the many moving pieces. Bring in experts and don’t beat yourself up about it.
And know that it is tough and wonderful and if we can do it, you can too.
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