When I married a divorced man with a child, a friend said to me “congratulations, you are a member of a ‘blended family.’” That sounded like a nice phrase at the time.
Nearly a decade later I know a blended family is an optimistic euphemism, like a melting pot. The division and tension are always there – just at varying degrees of toleration and manageability.
I believe it’s impossible for new spouses or children of divorced parents to find peace – or any sense of familial melding — when squabbles over money persist, lawyers drag cases through the courts for years, and judges fail to be realistic about financial circumstances.
I met the blonde freckled little girl, who has the same emerald eyes as my husband, when she was six. She lives 1,000 miles away. We got off to a good start. She liked it when I took her and her dad on a canoe ride through the Everglades and when we splashed around in a big bathtub together.
But within three years, we were not a blended family; we were pureed by animosity and parental alienation. One day when this little girl was in a supermarket with my husband and me she blurted out “how come you can pay for groceries but you can’t pay for my private school?”
How does a seven-year-old string together such a sentence? I wondered.
This little girl is now 15 and my husband and I have not seen her in five years.
The ugly fighting and protracted court battles between my husband and his ex-wife became so contentious that when my step-child last visited she was plagued with nightmares and begged to go home.
For a long, long time, my husband and I thought we had a unique situation. When we moved from Manhattan to the suburbs we were so ashamed we didn’t tell new friends my husband has a daughter, that I have a step-daughter.
We also keep this little girl a secret from our six-year-old, who doesn’t remember meeting her half-sister once.
I don’t have the heart, or the bottle, to expose our daughter yet to the ugliness of divorce. One day I’ll have to. I’ll explain how parental alienation and court battles stack the deck against blending a family.
I thought about this inevitable conversation recently while I was thumbing through my wedding album, which I keep buried deep at the back of my bedroom armoire. I like to look at the black-and-white portraits of me and my husband, at our country wedding, on a spring day in 2000. My heart trips every time I turn to the photo of little girl in the blue satin dress and the long French braid walking down a flight of steps in front of me spreading rose petals on the carpet. Back then, we were hopeful.