Recently, I was visiting a family of 7; a couple with 4 children, from ages 7 to 11, and a new puppy.
One grandmother was there with her significant other—we will call him John—whom the children had only met a couple of times. Their grandfather, beloved by all, had died several years ago but was still very present in their conversations. A gathering that could have been difficult for John and the family turned into a day of acceptance and joy.
So what did it take to make this happen?
- The children’s parents opened their home to John and fully embraced their mother in this relationship.
- John, having been informed of some of the family’s food preferences and allergies, arrived with an assortment of pastries that all could enjoy.
- In the morning, John had gone to watch one of the children who was playing in a sports tournament.
- On this hot day, all the children wanted was to dive into the pool. John had brought his bathing suit and went into the water with them, playing as though he was one of them. Laughs and giggles, splashing water and admiring their jumps and dives was all it took for the whole family to fully embrace John.
- John, who was clearly an experienced swimmer, showed the children how to breathe under the water, which they picked up immediately.
What can we conclude from this experience? What did the parents do? What did John do or not do to be accepted in a space where the late grandfather had such a big impact?
- The parents became a role model for their children by accepting this person.
- John found out about some of the likes of the family ahead of time so he could come prepared.
- John understood what was fun for the children, came down to their level and got his feet wet (no pun intended).
- John did not talk about himself, rather he took interest in the family he was entering into, including the puppy, which meant so much to all.
- John did not come in with an attitude or have expectations about what the family should do for him.
In my practice as I work with blended families, I hear about so many conflicts that come from the generation of the grandparents, or even from the siblings or the in-laws. The experience that I witnessed this past weekend seemed to make it look so simple. It isn’t simple. It takes a bit of work, but it is possible for blended families to live in harmony with one another.
Mediation can certainly help iron out some of the wrinkles with blended families. If you know anyone who could benefit from a little help, please tell them not to despair and reach out to me.
jennifer safian. divorce and family mediator divorce and family mediation upper east side of manhattan (nyc) new york, ny (212) 472-8626 firstname.lastname@example.org connect on