Tommy Maloney offers guidance on the challenge of blending families after divorce.
On September 26, 1969, we meet a family that is not a “typical” family at the times as far as dynamics. We have a dad who is widowed and is raising (you might know where I am going) three boys. Then there is a divorcee who ironically is raising three girls. The Brady Bunch or even today’s “Modern Family” both incorporate what can be called a “Blended Family,” where each parent may have kids from a previous marriage and they are now blending all the adults and children into one new family. My wife Ann and I are a blended family, and want to share with you how we are trying to make our family work.
Our journey started like most marriages, with both of us not really thinking that once you say the “I Do’s” the next signature will be on your divorce papers. When I was coaching youth hockey, I would say to the kids, “What’s the best thing about falling down?” They would give me a look of deer in the headlights face and I would say, “Getting back up.” That is what divorce can be—the chance to get back up. First the punch to the gut of possibly being blind-sided by the words, “I want a divorce,” and then the day where you get another opportunity to experience love and maybe get it right. In our case, it was not only getting a second chance but also discovering what a “blended family” is and how to make it successful. So here are four tips we’ve learned—over time and the hard way–that make blending your families easier and more enjoyable for everyone.
Tip 1: The kids MUST come first. When we first started to date and realized that we really wanted to move forward, we knew that if the kids did not get along then we did not want to continue the relationship because you do not want that added stress. This can sound a bit harsh for guidance, but it’s essential. The point here is, your kids’ needs to be happy and healthy come first. They don’t control who you date or marry, but you must make sure your choices are healthy and create a stable environment for your children.
Tip 2: This was a huge wake up call for us—the financial piece. There is no way of getting around talking about how the two of you adults will handle money. Our biggest mistake was keeping two separate banking accounts. When it came to paying the bills, the one hand didn’t know what the other hand was doing. So it’s critical to get everything under one roof, so to speak. We were struggling not just money-wise but also marriage-wise because we avoided the hard conversation—and not blending our finances almost ruined our marriage. Having those one-on-one difficult conversations is tough but so many marriages end due to financial stress (even when there is enough money), and when you are a new blended family, the money talk is one you need to have with your partner.
Tip 3: Date nights are not what you think. Yes, you two should make sure there are regular date nights, but you also have to scheduled date nights with you and each of the kids. Spending time with each child on a individual basis can help build and strengthen your relationship, and I mean with both your biological kids and your “bonus” (we never used the word “step” in our household) kids. Get on their level and find things that they enjoy doing. They will appreciate the effort more than you know.
Tip 4: Be a cheerleader for the kids. In our family we try to go to as many kid events as possible (including recently a high school graduation) to show our support. Our kids have even attended some adult hockey games to show their support for us!
These are just the first steps we have taken to help us become a blended family, and in our opinion we’ve been pretty successful. You may disagree with some or all of our advice, but we’re offering you strategies that have worked exceedingly well for us. When you bring not only different personalities into a relationship but also different families (as well as relationships with a former spouses), things can get difficult. We have been through our own ups and downs in our three years of marriage, but those challenges have made our family stronger, and we are happy to share to help you build your own strong blended family.
Watch Tommy Maloney’s TEDx talk: