We are the epitome of a “blended family”. I am Allen’s third wife. He is my second husband. We have 4 children from 4 different marriages, spanning 3 decades. One of whom has special needs. So it’s a lot.
My oldest child Eden, who is Allen’s stepdaughter, is a recent high school graduate and is entering her first college semester. She is also living at home, which presents a challenge. She is transitioning from childhood to adulthood, and while that is never an easy transition, it is particularly difficult when there’s not the clear separation of “going away”.
Eden is moving from her room in our house to the “cabana”. That’s the pool house. It sounds posh, but it’s window units and rats out back and of course the ever-present gigantic lake roaches. Don’t get me wrong, the fact that I just said “pool house” is not lost on me. Growing up, I never lived in a house with a pool, much less a pool house. It was originally built with the intention of being a game room and a place to pee if you were swimming. And the main house was a 2 bedroom lake bungalow with saltillo floors and a sweet 80’s southwest paint job in the kitchen that would have peeled your eyeballs. I know that we are privileged, roaches not withstanding.
Allen’s son David lived in the cabana throughout high school. Once, not being able to rouse David, his best friend Kevin launched a pudding cup at the side of the cabana to try to startle him awake. Said pudding cup exploded on the siding and made it look like God had a minor case of the squirts that day. The story lives on.
So this evening we took Eden to dinner with the mutual understanding that we would be discussing rules for living in the cabana. Eden came equipped with a 2 page, hand-written list of things she wanted to talk about. We came with a bullet list of about 6 items.
It went well, at first. Since she had the lengthy part, we let her start. Most of the things on her list were pretty reasonable and didn’t require a whole lot of discussion. We had to reel her in on a couple of items, but overall it was pretty benign. Then came our list. We disagreed on a few points, which were hard and fast after Allen and I had had some previous private discussion. When we started disagreeing, things headed south. I think I saw Cape Horn.
Eden spent ten years being primarily raised in my house, alone with me, and so our communication styles are similar in many ways. Allen and I have very different communication styles. Because Allen and I love each other, we continue to work on how we communicate. It’s not always easy, and it’s an ongoing process. Allen and Eden love each other, too, but they have relied heavily on me in the past to communicate for them, which has been very difficult. I love both of them. I want both of them to feel safe, valued, and validated. It’s become an overwhelming task. I am seeing a therapist now who has set one of my goals as removing myself from the center so that they can have a more direct relationship. It’s hard though, being a natural diplomat, to see two people who love each other hurt each other. To wish one had been more gentle, or one more receptive, or one show more gratitude, or one show more grace.
Nights like tonight leave me exhausted and restless at the same time. I would move heaven and earth for my children. Allen would, too. 17 is a hard age, and it’s easy to forget that. Carrying the weight and financial responsibility of a family is hard; it’s less easy to forget that, when you’re in it.
What I remember, all the time, is that kindness matters. And in the blended family, kindness matters even more. When there’s not the blood connection, you have to try harder. It’s just true in times of transition and challenge. I think everyone here can handle the challenge, but it’s not easy, folks. As they say, the struggle is real.
As for the cabana, it will soon house a college kid and withstand whatever pudding comes it’s way. We will all make it through. We may be a little weathered, but we’ve got good bones, at least.