4/23/12

Not a Broken Home

by Tina Ann Forkner

About thirty moms at my local MOPS stared back at me as I spoke about being a mom in a blended family.  I was there to give them some tips about how to be a better mom in a blended family and how to interact with families who are blended, even if yours isn't.  It's a topic I'm supposed to know something about and I did my best to impart some kind of wisdom, but inside I wasn't completely sure I had the answers.

The thing about speaking is that you are supposed to be an expert, but I usually walk away taking a deeper look at myself afterward. Do I even know what I'm talking about? How can I speak on a topic that I'm smack dab in the middle of living? And how do I even know if my family is okay? 

I think they are. I hope they are. My husband and I have tried really hard to make sure this is true. 

What we've mostly worried about are our kids. The statistics I've found about how detrimental divorce is to children are staggering. (You can look them up for yourself at www.smartstepfamilies.com - A great resource for blended fams, by the way.) The numbers basically say that kids of divorce have a higher chance of getting divorced themselves, and that they also experience an over all low self-esteem compared to other kids. How depressing!

So after that talk, I asked my daughter if she ever felt left out at school or embarrassed about having two families. Much to my shock, she said no. She even seemed a little surprised I would ask. She pointed out that while it was sad, it all worked out. She loves all of her family and seems accepting of how things are. That said, when I questioned her, as I have before, about what she thinks of divorce, she said that she doesn't ever want to get one herself. 

Could it be that my daughter is whole and healthy despite divorce? I hope so, but I still worry. Videos like this one make me worry. This is Britt Nicole as she sings about going through divorce with her parents when she was just seven:


What mother or father who has been through divorce can watch this and not cry? Not me! Watching it right now just made me cry all over again. Where are the tissues? (I think I used them up last week when I was reading Not In The Heart, by Chris Fabry) 

I'm not a therapist or a counselor. I'm just a writer and a sometimes speaker, but from being a mom and step mom in a blended family, I've come up with six things you can do to help your kids navigate their non-traditional family. There are lots more than six, so don't stop here. Get informed and with God's grace, they'll be fine:

1) Define Your Own Family: Don't let other people define your family. What you call yourselves will define your children for a long time to come, so be clear to them and to others how you want to be referred to. How many times have we heard a well-meaning person refer to a child as coming from a 'Broken Family' or a 'Broken Home'. I hate that! And you know what? I hear the term spoken by Christians more than anyone else. How do they know it is broken? Maybe the family is fixed. These should not be catch-all terms for children who come from a divorce background. Let your close friends and family know that you want to be treated as a family, referred to as a family, and included in activities as a family. You don't have to be mean, but you can gently educate others. In the end, your kids will feel more accepted by others and by you, as well.

2) On that note, Respect the Other Family: If you are in a blended family, your children may have another family. I've been married to my husband for almost eight years and both of our ex-spouses are remarried, as well. In the other family are step parents, siblings, and relatives that are not part of our own families. We may find it awkward at times, but we just have to respect that our kids have another family. Never say anything bad about the other family and how they live their lives in front of your children or to people outside of your close circle (gossip can hurt your kids, and how sad if it came from your own mouth!). As long as your children are safe and loved, you have no control over what happens at your child's other home. And your children don't either, so saying negative things about their other parents just puts your children in the middle, when what you want is for them to feel close to their families and loved by all.

3) Promises are Not Made to Be Broken: While children of divorce should never be referred to as kids from a broken home, we as adults are painfully aware that children of divorce are the products of a broken promise. The best thing you can do for them is to show them that promises can be kept and that you are staying put. When your step child lashes out and says he doesn't want you there, you can get angry, or you can let them know that you aren't going anywhere, because you love them. And when it comes to your marriage, work on it! Staying together will teach your children that not every marriage has to end in divorce, and hopefully when they grow up, theirs won't either. By staying put and staying together, you can show children that promises are not made to be broken. 

4) Be Honest About Divorce: I don't know how many times I've heard adults say in front of their children that sometimes marriages just don't work out and that's okay. Excuse me while I clean out my ears because surely you would not say that to your children! In my opinion as a stepmom/mom, I think it is still our responsibility to teach our kids about the perils of divorce, the same as we would if we were a traditional family. In fact, parents in step families have even more reason to warn their children to avoid divorce at all cost because we know exactly what the cost is, and it is high. Of course, we don't need to tell our children the nitty gritty details of why we got divorced (we probably don't want to be that honest), but we can tell them that we are sorry we divorced, sorry for them that it didn't work out, and that we hope and pray they will never get a divorce when they are adults. With exceptions aside (we all know what those are), divorce is not good for kids, so why not own up to that instead of trying to sugar coat the truth just to make ourselves look better in our children's eyes. Being honest might hurt at first, but in the end, our integrity is what will set a better example.

5) Claim Your Kids: All of them. There is nothing wrong with calling your stepkids My Kids. My daughter is my husband's stepdaughter, but she's also his only daughter, so he calls her his daughter. He's not trying to trick anyone and he's not trying to erase her dad out of the picture. Anyone with half a brain can figure out that she has two dads just by hearing her talk. If they don't know us well enough to figure it out, then frankly it is none of their business. I usually call our kids 'our kids' and I don't call my boys "stepsons" unless an explanation really is needed, such as when I'm talking with school teachers or coaches. All in all, it is not really my job to make other people understand. If they don't get it, it is not my problem. My goal is to make all of my children feel loved and know they are part of our family, not to make others feel comfortable with my divorce and remarriage. So claim your kids and adopt them in your heart as your own. (Shameless Plug: I wrote an article about this over at Inspire a Fire. It is called In The Spirit of Adoption if you would like to read it.)

6) Find Faith: You're going to need a lot of faith. My husband and I feel like we are doing a good job, but we are not perfect. Blended families are not for wimps and we could not do it without our strong faith in God. I swear there are days when that's all that carries us, and I hope that when our kids need something to grab on to, it is their faith, as well. When so much of what  your child believes in has been challenged by divorce and remarriage, it is even more important to introduce them to something that never changes. And in the end, He will be there when we mess up, because I believe that God is really the only parent who will never fail them. 

-Tina



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