If you ask the question, “How do you want your post-divorce family to function?”, you will likely get similar responses from a wide-range of people…
I want us to effectively co-parent…
I want our kids to know we are all there for them and still a family…
I want us to get to a point of peace and to have positive communication.
On the surface most of us seem to want the same thing, but a dive into the specifics is where it gets muddy. It’s easy for us to assume that there is a general best case scenario or picture to strive for after divorce and remarriage. The ‘one big happy family’ mentality is one that I admittedly hold. Largely because that is what I experienced growing up and the idea of having everyone rally around the children seems like a win-win situation. It worked for us. And when something works for you, it can be easy to assume that it can work for others as well. You can lose sight of the fact that your personal vision isn’t the right path for everyone.
I was recently asked about what to do when ex-family members want a relationship that differs from your own desires. It gave me the chance to really dive into the complexity of the question of ‘wants’. I spent some time researching and talking with friends and family who have been divorced or who have been stepparents or stepchildren. It’s been interesting to hear different points of view from others based on what each person is comfortable with. For example, your ex in-laws may want to keep the family relationship going but to you it feels like an intrusion. Or, your ex would like to plan joint birthday and holiday situations, but the stress of it makes you dread the events.
Based on our experiences each of us individually will have our own goals and picture of what post divorce and post remarriage life will look like. With blending, divorcing and sometimes re-blending this pulls in even more boundaries. Each person will come into the family with their own plans, goals and wishes. So here we are, a host of people, marching towards a goal that we assume others want as well. While not actually being sure if it’s doable let alone wanted by all. What a perfect storm and the perfect recipe for heartache and misunderstanding.
Even when you begin on the same page, you can find yourself changing your ‘wants’ with time. It can be easy to initially say – “We will continue to have joint celebrations and to do things together as a family after the divorce”. But will that desire remain once the children get older? Once you both start dating or get married? What if one of you go on to have more children? What if you gain step-children? Where do the lines of family stop in terms of joint events?
While there’s no quick way to determine what everyone wants and what will work best for your family, there are some points to consider when venturing into this situation:
Keep an Open Mind. Understand that even if you agree to a certain setup today, it might need to change in the future. What works today might not work tomorrow. Try to keep an open mind (and heart!) when traditions or schedules need to change to accommodate new paths in your future.
Be Flexible. After divorce, your family is going to change. This is above and beyond the initial ‘two houses’. You could gain a partner who will have children and an ex-spouse. That ex may then have have children who become your stepchildren’s half-siblings. Your own ex could remarry and have additional children or stepchildren to consider. The point being, that while divorce is often viewed as the ‘breaking’ of one home, what you’ve actually done is open the door for your family to grow at an alarming rate. Because of this, the initial plans you set at the time of your divorce may not be realistic down the road.
Work with Good Intentions. Maybe we won’t end up with the family that we once envisioned or dreamed about growing up, but that doesn’t mean it’s something to discredit. Family can come through the least expected channels and these changes have the ability to throw us into uncharted territory. You won’t always know what the best decision is in every situation, but choosing wisely, and kindly, will help you to land in a better place.