How We Turned Our 'Dysfunction' Into A Happy Blended Family

by Jessica Hoefer-Land
Originally Published: 
Six family members taking a photo with bride and groom at their wedding
Jessica Land

I think most of us can agree we have experienced dysfunction within our families or relationships, some worse than others. I blame those biblical characters Adam and Eve for starting the whole mess. I mean, who the hell takes an apple from a snake, takes a bite because the snake told her it would make her smart and then passes it on to her hubby so he can be smart too? Is this where the “apple a day” cliché came from?

As parents, the last experience we want our kids to endure is a dysfunctional home life. We always want better for our children and, let’s face it, whatever a kid experiences in their childhood usually has a lifelong effect. Of course, I realize kids need some adversity in order to navigate adulthood in a healthy matter, but let’s not go overboard.

Often, when I pull one of my epic parenting fails, I’ll ask my kids, “Do you think you will need therapy from this?” just in case I should start saving for the counseling bills now.

I never wanted my kids to endure the pain of divorce. I was a kid with divorced parents, and while I was only two when my parents split up, the fact they were no loner together impacted me throughout my childhood. I never knew my parents as a couple. They were never on the same page when it came to parenting. They both had complete opposite ideals regarding what it meant to be a mom and a dad. I only knew them as two individuals angry with one another over past wrongs, custody, and child support. It was easier for them to check out and leave a lot of the parenting to my grandparents. They simply weren’t in a good place when I was young.

Living that life as a kid convinced me if I married and had children, my kids were going to have a happily married mom and dad. And while I appreciate my optimistic heart, life had other plans, and I found myself divorcing my children’s father. I would be remiss if I didn’t say it was one of my life’s biggest regrets and I will always be disappointed in myself. However, was it better for our children to see a happy, committed couple or the two of us clearly at odds?

Our children were confused. My life felt like it belonged to someone else because the person I thought I was would never get divorced. If people truly have a midlife crisis, then that period of time in my life was mine. As far as our kids were concerned, I thought we were doing a pretty good job raising them in terms of saving them from any marital discord. So I was surprised when my kids told me they remember us arguing a lot. I thought we had been good at keeping it under wraps because neither of us were very skilled at communicating,

Once we were in the middle of divorcing, we tried to encourage and support our kids as best we could in the midst of tragedy. I have to say, they were pretty resilient, at least from the outside. The four of us had made some pretty neat memories together, ones we all still talk about and remember with joy. Despite the fact my kids are becoming healthy, happy young adults, I will always believe I let them down. This is my own personal battle, the result of such a tragic life event. One does not walk away from divorce without bearing scars.

Six years have passed. Both my ex husband and myself have remarried. Between the two of us, our kids have six step-siblings of varying ages. They are close to some more than others. My kid’s father married the most amazing woman. I am in awe of her strength as a woman, as a wife and as a mother. She loves my children as her own. She would do anything for them and her strength of character, resolve and kindness is flat out inspiring. I respect her to the utmost and consider her my friend.

I married an incredible man. He loves my kids relentlessly and works hard in letting the kids know he will always be there for them. He believes in their abilities and encourages them to pursue their dreams.

My ex-husband and I have become better people, thanks in part to healing, forgiveness and a new appreciation for one another. We are also better humans and we were fortunate enough to marry remarkable people.

Now there are four of us parenting our two children. Would you believe me when I say our kids are better for it? It’s true. This is the tricky part. This is the part of the story where people hear about our dynamic and ask, “How does that even work?”

Recently my kid’s stepmom was sharing with colleagues the fact that we went to dinner together. They were shocked to hear we got along.

Something that I feel is critical in co-parenting is consistency, commitment, and teamwork. If one of our kids has an issue (hello, 14-year-old son), the four of us make sure we are on the same page. The last thing I want for my kids is to get different messages based on which house they are at.

I talk to my kids because I think communicating about our family dynamic is essential. My kids have transitioned into our non-traditional family setting in a very healthy manner, and I think it’s largely because the four of us have committed to supporting each other and agreeing as a team on what is the appropriate direction for our kids. If we are united, it shows our kids we are making them a priority by providing a stable home life.

When our kids see us working together, it gives them the opportunity to see healthy relationships existing in what might be considered by some as a dysfunctional family setting. I believe we have changed the narrative by making it functional by offering a thriving home and environment. As a 4-person parenting team, we do not disparage one another. Even if we had reason to (thankfully, we don’t). I have no right to speak ill of my kid’s dad, and he has no right to speak ill of me. Doing so would send the worst kind of message to our kids.

I won’t lie, working through the whole “who gets the kids on holidays” syndrome demands flexibility. It requires being respectful of schedules and commitments. Yes, I cry anytime my kids are with their dad and stepmom on a holiday. Yes, I get jealous if they are out doing something fun or on vacation and I’m missing out. Yes, I find myself looking with envy at families with parents in the same home.

At the same time, my children’s experiences are broadened which only adds to their character and development. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to convince anyone that divorce and blended families are the ideal situation. It isn’t. In fact, it is some of the hardest work I’ve ever been a part of, but we have discovered these ways to make it healthier. Our kids have a big team behind them supporting, encouraging, and cheering them on to become their best selves.

My daughter says it best: “Through all of this, our family has grown and our hearts have expanded to love more.”

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