When I was young, I never dreamed that I’d be living the life I am now. I never imagined that I’d get divorced and start all over again but, here I am. Right in the thick of it.
Like many other parents, I’m raising children from two different relationships, and, while most days I’m too busy to really think about it, there are times when it really is a challenge. While there’s still an element of scandal to it in some circles, it’s becoming a more common occurrence in our society.
I can absolutely say that it has shaped how I feel about myself and what I believe a family should look like. I’ve learned so much from my children and the men in my life, and I hope that my insights can be useful to those who find themselves in a similar situation.
People may judge you
When they see how many ducklings I’ve got following me, you would be surprised by how many people are bold enough to ask if my children all have the same father. I am always taken aback and amazed that anyone would think that this is an appropriate question to ask. Why do they need that information and how am I supposed to answer that?
The first few times this happened, I would choke out some details of my life story — as if this outsider deserved an explanation — and brace myself for comments about how it’s too bad that I couldn’t make my first marriage work, or how my older kids must feel jealous of the little ones. It was hurtful and embarrassing, but, ultimately, completely unnecessary. I’m proud to say that I’ve learned to ignore and deflect these rude and intrusive people!
The "half-sibling" thing can be frustrating
I carried all six of my children in my body. They shared the same womb, and to me, they are simply brothers and sisters. We have never used the term "half-brother" or "half-sister" in our household, although, I acknowledge that some people do and that’s their business. It’s a personal choice.
When my oldest refers to my youngest as her brother, I never expected that people might jump in to say "half-brother, right?," but it has happened, and it has annoyed me every single time. That distinction might matter to some people but if we aren’t emphasizing it in reference to our own family, why should anyone feel the need to correct us?
They will have different ancestry
While there is a unifying theme and bloodline through me, my children have different ancestries because their fathers have different cultural histories. My older kids grew up in a French-Canadian home where we spoke two languages and feasted on regional foods such as poutine, tortière, and maple syrup. Sounds cliché, but it’s true!
My younger children were born in the Southeast part of the United States. Their dad loves biscuits and gravy and we only speak English in our home (except when I make an effort to make it a "French" day!). This diversity may not seem like much, but in reality, this has made for decidedly different upbringings, so far.
Their aptitudes may vary
My first husband is a total bookworm. He loves history and computers, and is a real handyman. He avoids exercise like the plague (although, we did see him run for free pancakes once), is quiet, and can be known to zone out and be forgetful.
My new partner is the opposite. Unless you count Twitter or sports stats, he’s not much of a reader, doesn’t have a natural aptitude for fixing things (but can follow the instructions on a YouTube video like a pro!), is a marathon runner, and seems to remember everything.
I’ve taught my psychology students all about nature versus nurture, and I guess I’ll be figuring out how much genetics play a role in child development first-hand as I raise my second set of kids!
They might be physically different
My ex and my current partner are similar in height and skin tone but that’s where most of their similarities end. They have entirely different builds, health backgrounds, preferences, and mannerisms. I can already see how different my three little guys are from their older siblings in those ways (and many more).
Despite the fact that none of them seem to have the same eye or hair color (how did they all end up so unique? Even the identical twins!), my kids are still just one big cohesive group. I like to think I’m the glue that brings it all together. I’m good like that.
The dads may have different parenting styles
My first husband loves our children but he never allowed himself to get too emotional or vulnerable with them. As a result, they struggle to talk to him about fears and goals because the conversation stalls pretty quickly. He enjoys going to museums with the kids, but he isn’t known for being especially active.
On the flip side, my current partner loves to get the gang outside and is willing to try almost any sport or activity — even if he makes a fool of himself. He has been known to shed a tear or two if the babies do something adorable, and he’s all about snuggling.
It’s almost like they are polar opposites and, sometimes, it’s a bit confusing. At the end of the day, I do my best to avoid passing judgment on either of them since my focus is on being a supportive co-parent. It’s easier said than done sometimes, though!
Their fathers may not get along
Everyone wants to be happy but that doesn’t mean that things are going to magically fall into place. Sometimes, the most you can hope for is pleasant neutrality despite your best efforts. There are blended families where the ex and current partners get along famously — that just isn’t what happened in my situation. I won’t give up hope that it could happen someday but, for now, I have decided to curb my expectations.
As a mother, I’ve had to be the peacemaker between my children which is something I expected, but I never imagined having to be caught in the middle of the two men in my life. Even if I think one is being completely unreasonable and unfair, I can’t punish him or put him on a timeout. All I can do is hope that we can all be adults and set good examples for our kids.
Someone might get jealous
No matter how good things are going, jealousy, even in its mildest form, will probably rear its ugly head at some point. My current partner had never been married before so everything is all new to him, including fatherhood. I’ve already been through most of these experiences with my ex and, truthfully, that can be a real buzzkill sometimes.
Meanwhile, my former husband and I struggled with fertility issues and multiple miscarriages. The fact that I’ve had three children (including a set of twins) with my new partner in just over a year has been tough for him. I have found myself curbing my new mom excitement when he’s around, in an effort to spare his feelings. It’s an interesting dynamic.
My experience might be unfair to my new partner
When you’ve already had a wedding, bought a home, and raised children, there’s nothing you can do to put yourself on the same playing field as someone who is experiencing all of this for first time. If I’m honest, there have been times when I’ve felt really guilty about this and it has hurt our relationship. I’ve had many moments when I’ve wondered if I did the right thing by not letting him find someone with his same level of experience.
Of course, this isn’t fair to anyone. We love each other and I have to respect that he knew the situation and made his own choices. The silver lining is that he has helped me see everything with fresh eyes and I’m learning to appreciate this second chance to the fullest.
Holidays and special occasions can get complicated
When my ex and I separated, I knew that holidays, birthdays, and other special occasions might get a little complicated. That first year wasn’t too bad, thankfully. We lived two blocks from each other, so, on Christmas, for example, my kids spent the morning with their dad and came home for dinner with me. Zero drama.
When my younger children were born, it became a real ordeal. My older kids didn’t want to miss their little brothers opening gifts and they all wanted to watch holiday movies together. But my ex refused to come over, so we had to improvise. The same became true for all special days. We are still trying to figure out ways to compromise to make everyone happy but, so far, we haven’t been entirely successful.
In-law expectations may be different
My former in-laws really didn’t want to be involved in our lives at all for multiple reasons (including the fact that they never supported our interracial marriage and our biracial children). My ex isn’t particularly close to his parents, and as a result, they didn’t try to have much input into how we raised our kids, or lived our lives. To be honest, I kind of enjoyed that lack of interference, especially now that my life is so different.
My new in-laws want to be too involved. They comment on everything, from the fact that our little guy wasn’t sleeping through the night to their belief that I was breastfeeding for too long. My partner is an only child, born to a single mother. She was extremely involved in his life and he’s had to work on putting up boundaries and letting his mom know that certain topics are off-limits. It has taken some getting used to!
The older kids may actually defend their step-dad
My first set of kids are in their teens and early 20s so they have a bit of life experience to give them perspective as they navigate this transition. Until my oldest moved out last year, they all lived with me, my new partner, and our babies. It has not been completely easy but we have formed our own little bond and I love it.
Still, it surprised me that, when their dad would make snippy comments about the new man in my life, the kids took it upon themselves to defend their step-dad in a gentle but firm way. This united front has made us all feel more like a family — blended or not.
The younger kids might feel left out sometimes
All of my kids either spend all day living with my new partner, or visit regularly, but my younger children stay behind when the older ones spend time with their dad. This, of course, is to be expected since he has no obligation to them, but that doesn’t make it any less confusing to the little guys.
My toddler loves to be with his big brother and sisters and sometimes gets really sad when they have to leave him behind. Fortunately, there have been times when my ex has included him in an outing which has helped bridge the gap. The downside is that it’s usually on the condition that I also tag along without my partner (which is an entirely different can of worms!).
You might be better the second time around
I liked to think (to hope!) that I was a good mother to my first three children, but the reality is that I was very young when I had them. I had less confidence, stressed over things that didn’t really matter, and was still trying to figure out who I was.
Now, years later, I have a much better sense of self, I don’t sweat the small stuff (as much!), and I am less bothered if my house (or my hair) doesn’t look perfect. I draw from life experience and really take more time to just enjoy my babies instead of just "surviving" them, if that makes sense.
Truth be told, I don’t know if all that is just because I’m older now, or if it’s because I’ve raised so many children at this point. I prefer to believe that it’s a combination of the two.
Working on the relationships is important
When childless couples split up, they never have to deal with each other again if they don’t want to. When children are involved, however, it’s in everyone’s best interest if both parents can find a way to get along. Working on a relationship with a former spouse can be painstaking, but it’s very important.
This is especially true when exes have new partners. It’s easy for jealousy and resentment to creep in and wreak havoc on top of the issues that led to the divorce in the first place. It is a lot of hard work and, sometimes, it can be incredibly discouraging. But, as parents, we owe it to our children to put our pride aside by making them the priority.
Your kids will have two male role models
No matter how you try to slice it, there will be two men in your life. In all likelihood, even if just by extension, they will both be influential figures in all of your children’s lives. If they interact with both men on a regular basis, this will, of course, make an impression, but even if they rarely come face-to-face, it will matter.
Why? Because the kids will see how their siblings are treated by their respective fathers. They will notice the differences in how they are raised and supported by each of these men. They will hear their sibling’s praises and complaints and it will shape them, whether you want it to or not.
You will have regrets
Even if your split was amicable, the first relationship ended. Some people call divorce a life lesson, others will call it a failure. However you frame it, some part of you will probably wish, at some point, that your children never had to live in a broken or blended home.
At the same time, you might be happier in your second marriage and wish that you had found this person earlier in life except…that would erase your first kids and you wouldn’t want to do that (because they are perfect exactly how they are!) but it would have been nice if they could have all had the same father and…you get the point. You will question yourself and you will be confused, but eventually, you will also learn to be okay with your choices.
You might also feel guilty
When I first started dating after my divorce, I was nervous and excited. Okay, mostly nervous. After 14 years of marriage, it felt weird to be with someone new and I was terrified — genuinely terrified — that my ex was going to find out. I don’t know what it was, but I wasn’t ready for him to know I was moving on.
Finally, I had to give myself permission to be happy again, even if it meant hurting my ex’s feelings. I knew he hadn’t let go of our connection, but I couldn’t let that hold me back any longer. It took a while to even feel comfortable saying my new partner’s name in his presence, and when I told him I was pregnant, it felt like I was betraying him on some weird level.
"Are the kids excited?" "Yes, of course." "Are you excited to finally have the kids I couldn’t give you?" Ouch. It was a punch in the throat but I lived through it, and with time, it has become easier.
You will embrace the madness
Some days are easier than others, but on most days, there’s at least one moment that reminds me that I live in a house of diverse bloodlines. It might be as simple as finding the older, darker-haired children musing at the golden locks sprouting from their baby brothers’ scalps.
Or, it could be as complicated as moving several states away, and having your ex fly out for a visit only to refuse to enter your home because he‘s in there. I’d stand out in the garage making small talk while my older children got ready for a day with their father who comically pretended he couldn’t hear my current partner playing with the babies on the other side of the door. I can’t make this stuff up.
Rather than crumble, every time things get weird or uncomfortable, I take some deep breaths and vow to never give up hope that one day we might all be able to be in the same room at the same time. And in the meantime, I also hide out in the bathroom.