“If you had told me as a little girl that I would someday marry my first boyfriend and high school sweetheart, have a daughter with him, and buy our first home, only for our marriage to eventually end in divorce by the age of 23, I would have dreaded growing up and falling in love.
Especially as a child of divorce myself, it was never my plan to raise a child in a ‘broken home.’ It was never my plan to be divorced by the age of 23. And it definitely wasn’t my plan to fall in love again, having to then navigate the messy and complicated world of co-parenting and blended family life.
It was always my dream to raise a family in a home full of love and laughter. To raise my children with a man who demonstrates what it means to be in love and what it takes to make a marriage work. People would ask me as a little girl what I wanted to be when I grew up and my answer was always, ‘I want to be a mother.’ Turns out that’s exactly what I am doing and my dreams are still coming true—just not in the way I had always pictured it.
Life After Divorce
After my divorce, I felt like a complete failure. My daughter was still an infant and although the decision was easy for me, I knew it was going to change her life forever. I was depressed and lost and suddenly felt more alone than I ever had before.
As the months passed and I tried adjusting to my new normal, I began feeling like myself again. I was going out with my friends more, finding a new sense of independence, and was hopeful about my future. What once felt like a failure, now felt like a fresh start and it was an incredibly empowering feeling.
During that season, my best friend was also navigating the messy world of dating, and we really leaned on each other to get through this time. We went to dinner together, binged chick flicks, and went out on the weekends when I didn’t have my daughter. And while it was fun and exciting to be experiencing the things I hadn’t before getting married, there was still something missing. There was still a void.
‘I just want to be a mom.’ THIS was my dream as a little girl, and although I was a mom, my life was nothing like I had planned. I wanted a family. I wanted to be married to my best friend. I wanted to be curled up on Friday nights watching Disney movies with my husband and our babies, eating popcorn, and falling asleep on the couch in each other’s arms.
I felt like this void in my life would never be filled and started to think I had missed my chance of living my dreams and having a typical ‘love story.’ I, again, started to feel lost and alone and like a complete failure. And then I met Trevor. The night we met, I felt such an immediate connection to him and it terrified me. Turns out, he felt the same way and told my best friend, ‘I’m going to marry that girl someday.’
He was nothing I ever dreamed of, yet everything I needed. He was spontaneous and funny and brought out a side of me that had been hidden for a very long time. He wasn’t afraid of my past or intimidated by the fact that I had a daughter; in fact, he admired me for it and found that to be one of my best qualities.
From the moment he met Olivia, he treated her with nothing but love. He made her meals, brushed her hair, and read her books at night. He played with her, laughed with her, and looked at her as if she was the greatest gift he had ever been given. The bond they had was (and still is) so special, and the role he played in her life solidified how I felt about him.
The day he proposed to me, he also proposed to her. He realized that not only was he asking me to marry him but was also fully embracing his role as a father, and suddenly what once felt like my biggest failure in life was actually our biggest blessing.
We spent every day for the next six months together, and while our story made no sense to anyone else, it felt as if we were destined for each other all along. Our love grew fast and we were thrown into a brand new, unknown chapter. For me, falling in love again, and for him, entering the world of fatherhood right off the bat.
Navigating Military Life
In 2014, Trevor joined the Navy and was stationed in Italy for four years. During that time, we got married, had a son of our own, and learned how to raise a family together in different countries. So not only were we a blended family, but we were also a military family, learning how to raise a family together from different countries.
That period of our life was messy, beautiful, romantic, and brutal. We spent most of it on Facetime, counting down the days until he was home. When his military career ended, we once again had to transition to a new normal, and while we talked a lot about how to prepare for the transition, it was harder than we ever imagined.
I struggled with sharing the responsibilities of parenthood and allowing him to step into his role as a father. He struggled with the demands of raising kids and losing the independence and alone time that came with living alone in a foreign country. Our kids also struggled with our new dynamic, as we all learned how to co-exist in a home that now had two parents with very different parenting styles.
We had spent the past four years of our life in this honeymoon phase and were now being thrown directly into the throws of blended family life and co-parenting; something we didn’t get to ease into or experience together.
Overcoming Co-parenting Challenges
Flash forward nine years and we are now a blended family of six, with three boys of our own. And although we don’t use the terms ‘stepdad’ or ‘stepbrothers’ in our home, the challenges of being a blended family are still very real.
Our daughter is now ten years old and while she is a happy, loved, and outgoing little girl, I still worry about her feeling out of place or like a temporary visitor in our home. I still feel immense guilt over the fact that she lives such a different life than our boys, and no matter how hard we work to provide a normal life, her ‘normal’ will always look a bit different than theirs.
I still struggle with allowing my husband to parent her like his own, in fear she will grow to resent his efforts. I still find myself trying to protect her from any hurt or disappointment, in an effort to make up for the fact I chose this life for her.
We talk a lot about how hard blended family life is, but we fail to mention how much of it is the direct result of guilt and the attempt to provide a ‘normal’ life for our children. We fail to talk about how hard it is to treat children of divorce the same as our other children, without forgetting they do have different needs.
We fail to talk about the delicate balance in parenting blended family children so that no one feels out of place or as if they are being treated unfairly. We also fail to talk about how hard it is to co-parent with not only our new spouses but with our exes and their new spouses as well.
Because on top of having to learn how to parent within our own home, we also have to learn how to co-parent with our exes, which feels impossible at times. My ex-husband and I spent the first eight years of our daughter’s life in court arguing about almost everything having to do with the decisions we made for her.
Every interaction ended in conflict and we barely even spoke to each other during transition days. It wasn’t until our daughter turned nine that we finally learned how to communicate. How to set aside our egos and pride and need to be ‘right.’ How to make decisions solely based on her needs and not our own.
And while we are nowhere near perfect, we are finally at a point where we have learned we are now in the business of raising her together, even though it’s not under the same roof. Where we once saw enemies in each other, we now see teammates.
Where there was once competition between ‘real dad’ and ‘stepdad,’ there is now just comradery between two dads who love the same little girl as their own. What was once ‘his family and mine’ is now ‘her family,’ and this has been the key to our success as a blended family and as co-parents working together to raise her.
Blended family life is complex and messy, and the most challenging thing I have ever navigated, but it doesn’t ruin kids or life. Our life is full of love, memories, and laughter. And although it’s not a traditional family unit, we are a family. An imperfect family trying to raise strong, happy, well-loved kids, and I am so happy to say that is exactly what we are doing.
So, I guess here’s to finding love after divorce and not giving up on our dreams of raising kids. We are still learning. Still navigating. Still embracing this journey and forever proving that blended does not equal broken.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Emmy Bennett from Oakdale, California. You can follow her journey on Instagram and her website. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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