The last two weeks in a row, the questions I have tackled in my advice column at OCRegister.com have revolved around divorce, and issues of co-parenting. When I was working as a family therapist, I always had a soft spot for blended families. I think a part of that is because, from my own life experience, I understand that life, and family, does not always look the way we thought it would. Family can be messy. Adoption can be messy. Divorce is almost always messy. I am always encouraged to see couples who remain committed to their relationship as parents even after their marriage is over. And the parents who develop strong and loving relationships with their step-children from previous marriages? That can put me into the ugly cry, for sure. I think working with so many blended families early in my career helped me understand that family is not only about biology.
Anyways, the first question I answered revolved around new siblings being added by an ex:
I can only imagine that this is a hard situation for you to accept personally, as it is probably completely different than the picture you initially had in mind for your son’s first sibling. However, you can help define family for your son. You can broaden the parameters of family for him to allow him to be excited about the new addition. Family does not always reflect the married, two-parent nuclear household, and you and your ex can frame this situation as a positive for your son, even though your own feelings may be ambivalent. You are grieving the loss of expectation, but your son is gaining a sibling.
Last week’s question was about how to handle custody arrangements once a child reaches adulthood:
I think it may be more important for you guys to focus on how your relationship will move forward as she enters adulthood, rather than figuring out how to enforce custody arrangements over the next few months. She is close to independence, and some of what you are dealing with relates to blended family issues, but much of this is the stuff that every parents of a young adult must face . . . how to maintain a relationship once children fly the nest. She’s at an age where many children move into dorms or out on their own, and so it’s important to try to focus on quality over quantity at this point.
By the way, if you are divorced and navigating parenting with an ex, I highly recommend the website CoParenting 101. It’s written by a divorced couple who are walking the walk themselves, and their tagline is “Divorce Ends Marriages . . . But Families Endure.”