One Co-Parenting Mama’s Marriage 2.0
Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale…
I’m sorry I haven’t updated this column in a while, but I’ve been super-busy leading up to and since my recent marriage. Less than a week ago, I married a wonderful man I refer to online as TechBoo. He’s now bonus*-dad to my dear daughters, ages 6 and 11, and I’ve inherited two lovely bonus-daughters, ages 11 and 13. We held our private family wedding ceremony during a 2-hour sunset cruise aboard a sailing yacht in the Gulf of Mexico. We said “I do” right at sunset at the boat’s bow while holding on and trying not to go flying overboard as the photographer snapped away and our daughters alternately giggled, teared up and read poems about friendship and blessings.
After a few days in the Florida Keys, all six of us returned to TechBoo’s house, which is now my 2nd residence, to enjoy a brief family “honeymoon” (an oxymoron if there ever was one). Both TechBoo and I have shared custody of our respective children from previous marriages, and neither of us wishes to parent from a distance (not that there’s anything wrong with that). So, what has been 3+ years of long-distance dating will now be a long-distance marriage when my daughters and I go back to Pittsburgh in a few days. This will be our arrangement until my youngest bonus daughter graduates high school…in about 7 years.
So of course, we get asked all the time, “Exactly how does that work?” The short answer: TechBoo and I see each other at a minimum two weekends a month, more often and for weeks at a time during school breaks, summers, holidays, and for special events. He has a never-ending honey-do list in both cities. I’m in charge of minimizing household chaos and other “inside jobs” in both cities. I take my bonus-daughters to the dentist. He helps all the girls with school projects. We have separate and joint bank accounts. We have social lives, favorite haunts, clothes, and toiletries in both cities. We are passionate, best friends wherever we are.
We bring the girls together as often as we can. It’s not nearly as often as they would like, but they do get to enjoy summer camp and vacations together, along with random weekends and some holidays (depending on the custody calendars). We’ve vacationed just the six of us, as well as with my ex and his wife (plus some assorted nieces from both families, and our ever-growing brood of dogs, thrown in for good measure).
Welcome to my Marriage 2.0.
I call this Marriage 2.0 not because it’s my 2nd one, but rather to reflect the fact that it’s part of the changing landscape of marriage and family in this country. Though solid stats aren’t easy to come by, it is believed that the blended family is now the predominant family form in the U.S. Let’s look at the numbers:
• There are 23+ million blended family/stepfamily households in America
• 2,100 new blended families are formed every day in the U.S.
• One of three Americans is now a stepparent, a stepchild, a stepsibling, or some other member of a blended family
• More than half of Americans today have been, are now or will eventually be in one or more step situations during their lives
• About 75% of divorced persons eventually remarry
• About 43% of all marriages are remarriages for at least one of the adults
• About 65% of remarriages involve children from the prior marriage
(For the record, I’m not a fan of the term “blended.” We’re not a mocha latte, and bringing sibling sets together is not at all the simple process “blended” implies. But on occasion, I will use the term for convenience’s sake.)
Further adding to our 2.0-ness is the role that technology has played in our relationship from the very beginning. Because of the distance, we text, talk, and email throughout the day. We went through our IM and Skype phases as well. Once, during the early days of dating, we spent an entire afternoon communicating via email…solely in haiku form. Marriage 2.0 requires healthy doses of creative and flexibility, to be sure.
Also as a result of the distance, my 2.0 experiences differ in many respects from those described in my bonus-mama bibles Stepmonster and The Package Deal. And yet, some fundamentals remain the same. We’ve never wanted to be the family equivalent of Disney Dad, so TechBoo and I have always allowed for “normal” time when the six of us are together. Instead of non-stop recreation, homework and chores get done, kids get bored, disappointed, annoyed with each other at times…and it doesn’t kill them. Of course, “normal” time means “normal” family dynamics–the good, the bad, and the “thank God for date night.”
As a result of all this “normal”, we’re well-versed in some pretty typical parenting, step-dating, and now step-parenting challenges. My occasionally-co-sleeping daughters are getting used to the new sleeping arrangements; call us old-fashioned, but before TechBoo and I married, we never shared a bed when the kids were around. Also, my bonus-daughters are gradually learning from our example a lesson that hopefully will serve them well in their own relationships: A partnership thrives on compromise and mutual respect. So, no, girls, your dad is not the boss of me; he doesn’t get to make executive decisions. And neither do I. And we’re both okay with this.
As committed as I am to a good co-parenting relationship with my ex, I take to heart what Kela Price, founder of the Blended Family Soap Opera, has to say about what we model for our children: “Divorced parents who are remarried shouldn’t spend the majority of their time trying to show their children what a healthy divorce looks like, but show them what a healthy marriage looks like.” Living in different cities isn’t what TechBoo and I consider ideal, but it’s what our present parenting situations demand. So even in the face of the distance, we’re still aiming for “healthy.”
Like others of those 75% of divorced persons who remarry, TechBoo and I weren’t able to make it work with spouses we shared a house with year-round. So of course, this leads to some philosophizing: “What makes a healthy marriage? What makes a marriage, period? I invite your thoughts on this in the comments section.
As for the bonus family-specific hurdles that lie ahead, there are some we’re predicting and no doubt others we won’t even see coming. To say these girls keep us on our toes is an understatement. We want them to be healthy, strong, and free, and to always know that they are loved. During our wedding ceremony, we presented each of them with keepsake boxes and this vow:
…although our lives are joining and will be blended in many ways, each of you will remain unique and uniquely special to us. We have chosen these silver boxes as a place for you to store your treasures, and to represent how each of you are treasured and cherished forever in both our hearts…
After the ceremony, night began to fall as we sailed along the Gulf back to the marina, sipping champagne and Sunkist soda. Our girls in their lavender dresses boogied on deck to their own songs of celebration, yelling at every passing boat and to people on shore, “They just got married! We love you, Key West!” Our six-year-old, always marching to the beat of her own drum, announced boldly to sky, sea, and to the world, “They’re married…WE’RE married!”
*Many thanks to these ladies for introducing me to the “bonus” concept a few years ago.
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