Back when I started writing my fourth novel, The Real Thing, I had already been in a blended family for several years. I’ve written about blended families, I’ve talked about blended families, and a common theme that runs through my novels, no matter the setting or plot, always deals in some way with the breaking and re-tying of family bonds. I’ve talked a lot about how The Real Thing has a cowboy in the story, how part of it is set on the rodeo circuit, and of course the romantic element. Those discussions have all been fun and exciting, but the truth is, despite the fun part, The Real Thing is a Women’s Fiction novel about a family in crisis and the effort it takes to lasso it back together again. I know just what it’s like to be in that situation and even though I’m far enough to have gained enough perspective to write a novel about it, I’m still on the journey. My focus as a mom and a stepmom will always be to keep my children tied into our family, which I try to explain a little bit in this post.
“Whether a reaction is endothermic or exothermic depends on the difference between the energy needed to break bonds and the energy released when new bonds form. If more heat energy is released when making the bonds than was taken in when they broke, the reaction is exothermic.” — Definition from the BBC Website
It hurts when bonds break and it can even hurt when we make new ones. There seems to be no other way.
I did a quick Google search on “bonds that break” and the above definition showed up at the top of the list. I know it’s a scientific definition, but immediately I was struck by how easily it translates to real life. Breaking bonds, whether it’s the loss of a marriage, a friendship, or a death is a process that takes energy. I should know. I have gone through a divorce. Personally speaking, it was the hardest thing I’d ever been through at that time. Not even the loss of my Grandma, which broke my heart, caused that much pain. Probably because the loss of my Grandma could not be helped, but a divorce requires severing a bond. I remember a constant feeling of stress in my body, my heart, and my soul. Bonds hurt when they break.
And then came the man I’ve been married to for almost twelve years. The terrible energy I had been holding inside, the pain and sadness, began to release as we formed a new bond. At first it was all joy and the reaction in our lives was that of elation. We were happy. All previous sadness evaporated, or so we thought. As happens in every second marriage, and in every marriage, period, we had to go through stuff. Apparently some of the hurt and pain we’d stored up inside of ourselves was still there, and we had to release it in order for our bond to grow.
My husband and I had been on similar journeys, so we understood each other. Binding our lives together wasn’t impossible. In fact, it was amazing, but marriage is real, right? Nothing is static. Nothing stays smooth. It’s like a million little exothermic reactions happening at once, especially when you have kids. I don’t really understand the scientific-speak of the definition for bonding, but in this case, it sounds like a good comparison to me.
So much more was going on in our new marriage than our friends could have imagined. We weren’t the only people in our messy, beautiful family that had been holding in all that painful energy. Our children had been too, so while we worked to reform new bonds in our lives and marriage, we also had to help guide our children to do the same. Their bonds with their other parents were not severed, thank God, but the family links had been broken and it took a huge amount of energy to reform those ties in a healthy way.
We did our best and we thought we covered all the bases, but we aren’t God. There is no way to fix everything for these beautiful kids ourselves. At some point it became a journey that each of our children and God have had to go on together. They have to choose how they feel about their family and their place in it before they can accept the crappy side of a blended family and embrace the happiness of being in one. Some kids come to it gently, others fight against it, and sometimes the ones who struggle the most are the ones we thought were okay. Their world is still exploding in reactions that we can’t see.
Blending a family is hard. We’ve been at it for twelve years now. We’ve been to that place where nothing we do is right because they wanted the other parent to be in that moment with them instead of one of us. We’ve been to that place where a child struggles with acceptance even after years of affirmations. We’ve walked roads with them that we never dreamed of for them when we first decided to bring them into the world. We’ve walked beside them even when they thought they didn’t want us to. We moved over a little bit to give them some space, but we have never ever left them.
It’s not easy, but it takes so much energy to break old bonds and to make new ones that the last thing we wanted to do is cause more breaking of their bonds, let alone our own. I used to say people shouldn’t stay together just for the kids, but I’m not so sure about that anymore. Maybe we should at least try.
Children in blended families benefit if their families stay together, even their blended ones. My husband and I were never headed to divorce court, of course. He is my Superman, but our kids have definitely made us try harder. As stepparents, we get out of the way, but we never go away.
Just let me repeat that mantra, because I’ve said it to myself over and over through the years: As stepparents, we get out of the way, but we never go away.
I’m not writing this to judge if you have had to go away, because every family situation is different. The energy is different. The breaking and binding happen differently, but oh man oh man, woman oh woman, if you can stop the bonds from breaking again, if you can stay and help your kids bind those ties, you become part of a whole that the kids can rely on forever. You find real love in all its messy glory.
And love is worth it.