Holy crap! Neither of us had any idea how much extra time, energy, thought and planning the logistics in a blended family would require. This is one of those things where once again, we caught ourselves thinking “How different could this be?” We had each been previously married with a family before. We each had been a single parent and handled the balance of transitioning visitations before. I think I was under the impression that being married again would be the same logistics as a single parent except that I would have someone to share it with. In reality it is a constantly evolving whirlwind of trying to conduct three symphonies, alone, while they’re still being written. Here’s what I mean.
Every Friday and Sunday night are gone. Our children’s other parents live an hour or more in opposite directions. This means that my husband is gone one weekend and I’m gone the next, for a minimum of 2 ½ hour block EVERY Friday and EVERY Sunday night. Typically this means the other parent stays home alone to get the remaining kids dinner, bathed and in tucked into bed while the traveling parent grabs fast food on the road or doesn’t eat ‘til way late. (Feeling like a single parent again?)
Date Nights with Kids
We have loved the idea of taking our biological child out on a date with just their biological parent at least bi-weekly. It lets your child know that even though we are creating a new family that they are not being replaced or forgotten. We have noticed an extreme positive change in our children when we are able to apply these nights and really strive to make them happen. This can be an evening or a breakfast or even rock-climbing at the gym. If finances are tight you can even have just the two of you locked up in their room playing dolls, x-box, board games or whatever. As long as you take really 1 on 1 attention and make them feel special. This is of course multiplied by how many children you have. “His” child, “My” child and “Our” child. (Again you’re alone for 1 -2 more nights)
The former spouse will often have scheduled visits through either a telephone call or FaceTime. I need to set an alarm to remind me of the “phone dates” or they will easily get forgotten in the bustle of everyday life. These are of course in our family x2! Ideally these would happen sometime between school and dinner. Any later and they tend to interfere with the evening routine. Right before bedtime is the worst time for Phone calls!!! Children tend to milk the call as a way to stay up and not go to bed then you have to play the “bad guy” and end the call, giving the child the impression you are the one not allowing communication with the other parent. This is something you should avoid at all costs! If you have to do phone calls at bedtime, let the other parent be the one to end the call and deal with tears. Even if it’s 30 min later.
Like clockwork there’s a bi-weekly argument with the difficult ex-spouse about the drop off and pick up location and time for the weekend, despite a solid court agreement. Because we resist her demands and choose to stick to the court agreement this “request” is typically quickly followed by empty threats to show up with police, drag us back to court “until the end of our financial resources “ or even to not allow us visitation for the weekend at all. Because these threats have thus far been empty, we have no grounds to take her back to court, so all we can do is plan for them. No matter how many times someone threatens your relationship with your child, you never get used to it. My husband will burn off aggression by doing an intense CrossFit workout or going for a long run. I will try to mask a smile for the kids to hide my anger while we continue with the evening routine. On extreme occasions when I’m also too flustered to function, we’ll cheat by calling in Pizza and watch a movie with popcorn. (Seriously! You need a Pizza Budget!) Often after the children have gone to bed, the stress of it all requires some major chocolate and bubble bath therapy! (Again, I either give my husband a night off or he gives me a night off)
At some point I must remember to reach out to the forgetful ex and make sure he can see all the appointments entered into the shared calendar on our phones and re-confirm he can still follow through on commitments. If there are changes he forgot to tell me about I must be sure to annotate it lest I forget as well. I also need to compile any different Calendars into one, from school newsletters, sticky notes, and my husband’s negotiations with his ex. Thank goodness for Smart Phones!!! Then I must quickly re-asses how to juggle the whole week to accommodate these changes.
Courtesy of letting others know
While I’m standing in front of the Calendar I will be reminded of birthday invitations, (some I’ve already missed) church programs, sports games, my husband’s Scout Pack meeting (alone again that night) and somewhere between naptimes, diaper changes, doctor appointments, thinking of continuing my education, grocery shopping and school runs and if I remember, I will call and let people know if my child will or will not be attending. Or if there’s yet again a threat to withhold our child, I honestly can only still tell you it’s a maybe.
Weekly date night!!! Oh thank Heaven this day exists!! It’s easy to turn a date night into a Logistics Planning night. Be careful to keep this night as a special reminder of why you two fell in love, to recharge, laugh and enjoy each other’s company. You’ll need it to get through the week or maybe two if disaster strikes and this day falls through. Then be sure to re-schedule the babysitter for next week!
While you’re calling the babysitter be sure to book her (or another one) for a second night! No matter how well we may be trying to juggle all of this, blending a family will take a HUGE strain on your marriage. You can try to prove that you can do it all on your own and end up spiraling so far down you will be forced into marriage counseling or you can be proactive and start going before the stress of it all breaks this marriage too. Triggers from your first marriage are bound to resurface, even long after you thought you’ve healed. The stress and communication problems you will endure will be so unique to your family that no matter how many blogs you read, articles you research or scriptures you study, you will need a professional guide to help you navigate, create and build a new, lasting and strong marriage and family. Do yourself a favor and schedule, budget, get a second job and do whatever you need to do in order to go to marriage counseling!
Family Home Evening
Once a week we try to have a Family Home Evening. This is a no-TV, fun-filled game or activity night where we get to be silly, fun and make memories with just our family. We squeeze in a lesson on a virtue. It’s important to schedule this night or rather, to vigorously not schedule anything else for this night, or it simply dissipates and will not happen. Remember how I explained that EVERY Friday and EVERY Sunday are out. This means that the ONLY night our family is all together is every other Saturday night. Unfortunately that automatically means this day doesn’t always happen simply because we have so many other things planned. The sad truth is, in order to keep this tradition as a routine for our family, we must accept the fact that our oldest child will miss out on most of them. All we can do is treasure the nights we have him during the summers or on the rare occasion we have all three kids for a week during the school year.
Our weeks are a constant fluctuating evolution and I don’t even know what’s going on half the time. Most nights I feel like a single parent again while I juggle the evening routine by myself or am out on an errand without my spouse. My husband often feels the same way, or guilty for needing to go out knowing I could use his help while I soothe a crying child. Our house seems to be the only place where our kids feel safe enough to completely fall apart and as worn out as I am, I hold them and patch them back together. Sometimes a meltdown is bad enough that we need to cancel plans for the night. Our life is busier and more chaotic than I ever imagined it could be. Everything seems to be pulling my husband and I in opposite directions until I reflect back on the week and can’t even remember the last time we were able to have a proper conversation. The forces pulling you and your spouse apart are so much greater than in your first marriage that you are going to need to FIGHT for your marriage every single day! Strive to make simple tricks habits. Leave notes, turn off the TV and go to bed early and at the same time, so you can cuddle and talk. Read together and always end the day with a prayer together. It certainly won’t happen all the time, or even most of the time. But if you fight for it daily, you can make this feeling of being a single-parent-in-a-relationship feel like you are truly orchestrating a symphony…. Together!