About a week ago, Hot Moms Club did a post on Tori Spelling’s Christmas card and how she’s receiving criticism on social media for not including her step-son, Jack, 16.
This struck a chord.
I can’t say that I agree with the criticism being directed at her – isn’t Dean to blame? I can tell you that I personally grew up being treated like a second class child whenever I was with my dad’s “new family” (my step-mother who had never been married before, and my half brother twelve years my junior). The feeling of being an outcast in my own father’s house every time I visited him was emotionally damaging and I’m sickened when I see it happening to other kids – especially after decades of what should have been the learning curve for society to figure out the right and wrong ways to blend a family.
We can and must do better.
Every family has its own unique set of strengths and weaknesses based on personalities and circumstances, but it is possible to blend a family successfully. These tips aren’t complicated and are worth taking to heart. There’s an ugliness spectrum for divorce; where you and your family end up on that spectrum is up to you.
1) The family photo (including the Christmas card)
There are two parts to this one…First, don’t be an ass hole and hang “family photos” all over your house that clearly exclude one or more of your children/step-children. This was my life every time I visited my dad’s house. Literally not one shred of photographic evidence that I existed anywhere in view. It’s hard enough to be a child from divorce – you don’t need it rubbed in your face that your mom/dad has a new family. Be considerate of your kids’ feelings. Second, when you find yourself in a moment where family photos are being taken, don’t exclude your “other kids” from the photo. One time at a cousin’s wedding, my step-mother got upset that my older brother and I were in the photo with her, my dad and half-brother and insisted on a second photo being taken of just the three of them…psycho. If your new spouse shows any sign of wanting you to disassociate yourself from your “other kids,” run the other direction. If you really want to take a picture with your “new family” (totally understandable), make sure to take an equal amount of photos with only your “other kids” to even it out.
2) Family vacation
It’s a family vacation; therefore all family members should be included, right? My brother and I went on little vacations every summer with my Dad, until he got married to his third wife and had another child. Once my half brother was born, my older brother and I were never included on family trips during the summer – they would get their trip done before we arrived for our visitation. It felt like we were being gradually written out as his children. If you insist on a family vacation that does not include your “other kids,” you need to make sure you plan a second one that does not include your new spouse and new child/children to make it fair.
3) Celebrate birthdays equally
All birthdays should be created equal; equal attention, equal gifts. My dad would forget to even just call me on my birthday, but buy my half brother gifts that cost $100+ dollars and do a birthday celebration. Also, DO NOT have your new spouse buy birthday gifts for your other kids (they will know) unless it’s in conjunction with something else you got them.
4) Don’t talk shit about your ex in front of your kids
Even the snide remarks. Just don’t do it. Lock it up. Resist the urge. Be a grown up.
5) Don’t fight with your ex in front of your kids
They probably had to witness enough of that before the divorce. Have the courtesy to fight in private post divorce.
6) Verbal reassurance
Give your kids verbal reassurance on a ridiculous level. Tell them you love them more than anything and that the love is unconditional. Just know that whatever verbal reassurance you give your kids, it must be accompanied by actions; otherwise your words are meaningless.
7) Have empathy
Strive to empathize. Play the “what if” game in your head and try to imagine how you might feel in your child’s shoes. Be so committed to the game that you actually start feeling the feelings.
8) Force therapy
Literally force your kids to go to therapy. When I was a kid, my mom forced me and it was probably the best thing she ever did for me. I told her I would refuse to speak to the therapist (as kids will often say), and her response was “Fine. You can just sit there silent for an hour every week.” I eventually cracked and the therapy benefited me.
9) Have one-on-one time with all of your kids
This is the one thing on this list my dad didn’t fail at, so at least he sort of tried a little. When your “other kids” stay with you, make sure you spend alone time with each of them. They might not like your new spouse and shouldn’t be forced to constantly be with them. Plus, alone time is just good for relationship building.
10) Be there for the milestones
Make sure you’re there for ALL of your kids’ milestones.
11) Spend money equally
Whether it’s cars, education, or whatever else. Don’t spend more on one kid than the other. Unless it’s a girl vs. boy thing because everyone knows girls are more expensive haha.
It’s important to remember that divorcing your spouse doesn’t mean you need to divorce your children. I know it’s probably hard to co-parent in a divorce scenario, but that’s not the kids’ fault; it’s yours for marrying the wrong person. Your number one priority should be to reduce and ease the affect the divorce has on your child/children’s lives. Don’t make your kids pay for your mistakes in life.
Did you grow up in a blended family? What tips would you give divorced parents today?