I was raised in a blended family and while I’ve always appreciated the way my parents worked together post-divorce, their ability to co-parent means even more to me now as an adult. Growing up I didn’t have to think much about their relationship which is an environment that I now know took a lot of effort for them to create. Their problems were never our problems. While we of course would occasionally see slips of annoyance or tension, it was nothing more than you would see in any other relationship in your life. To them, and in front of us, my siblings and I were always first.
As I grew older and found myself in a stepparent role, I finally had the opportunity to understand the work that these type of situations and relationships require. It has made me forever thankful for the way my parents and stepmom have interacted all of these years. Due to my experiences, I’ve always believed that showing kids a healthy co-parenting relationship was important. It teaches them valuable lessons and it helps to build a solid foundation of family regardless of divorce or remarriage. Recently, this belief was made even stronger for me.
My brother passed away suddenly a couple months ago. This is a situation and a grief that has the power to rip open every wound, emotion and memory you’ve carried. My parents (mom, dad and stepmom) found themselves sitting together in a small ICU room in the height of unbearable pain, and left to discuss and process a parent’s worst nightmare. As we all stood around his hospital bed saying good-bye for the last time, I couldn’t help but to look around and be thankful for my family. There were no moments of “us” versus “them”. We were just together, because of love, experiencing the rawest and most difficult moment of our lives.
The choices I saw that night were entirely for my brother. There were no moments involving a power struggle or old resentments. They mirrored what they always had growing up – that us kids were first. From medical and funeral decisions between my mom and dad, to my stepmom writing his obituary, this was a team effort. There wasn’t a ‘top’ parent or arguments over who could decide what or who was in more pain. My parents realized that they were both grieving the loss of their son in their own way and it was respected. They demonstrated that they were equals and made decisions and compromises as needed.
I know that putting aside their own pain after their divorce and learning to work together was not easy. I can also assume that they have had struggles throughout all of these years that I never had to see. But I also have to imagine that the work paid off. How would this situation have played out if they didn’t know how to communicate or how to even be in the same room? Would their moment of saying goodbye to a child have been overshadowed by pettiness or anger? Thankfully, I don’t ever need to know that answer.
So to my parents – I say thank you. Thank you for giving us the ability to share the best and worst in life without fear of arguments, tension or hostility. Thank you for choosing love over bitterness, anger or pain. Your ability to work together in the face of incomprehensible heartache is a lesson, and a strength, that I will always carry. I hope that you never doubt the power of your sacrifices because they have not gone unnoticed.
And to all of you struggling in the blended family realm – I know this is hard and I know that there are days when simple communications seem unbearable. I also know that there are many valid reasons for reducing contact or choosing to parallel parent. But in those moments when you do have to work together, in those times when you do communicate, please take a moment think of your children. Kids of divorce, no matter what their age, want to have positive memories of their family interacting. They want to be able to celebrate all of life’s big and small moments without fear, anxiety or worry. The work you put in now will not only be noticed by your children, it will be appreciated more than you know. And when one day you celebrate a graduation, wedding or grandchild without anxiety of seeing your ex-spouse, you too will be thankful.