By Daphne Gregory
My parents met at an Army dance and married seven months later. My mother seemed to lose mental ground with each passing year. My father remembers it started the week they got back from their honeymoon. They shared a love of the Catholic religion, old-fashioned values, and a desire to succeed. This kept them going for 28 years together. Although unable to have their own children, my mother wanted to adopt children. She had been a nurse and staying at home while my father traveled was lonely and empty. They adopted three children, my brother, my sister and I. As my mother’s mental health deteriorated, my father’s career advanced and his time away from the house increased. We moved frequently, and my mother had no friends or family to support her decline while she cared for three small children. One by one, the children were sent away to boarding schools to lighten the load, to lessen the stress for everyone. As the family life deteriorated, so did the marriage. There was great sadness and violence at the failure of it all for many years. And then one day, my father announced he was leaving. He had an apartment, and we soon found out, a new woman in his life. My father was ready for a new start, a new beginning.
My father dated and married a woman that worked for him at his company. They had a lot in common. The woman, my new stepmother had 2 small children from her first marriage and they all moved into a house to live together. She was a practical, hard-working type. And devoted to her children. My father was happy and enjoyed the family life spent with his new wife and her children. They spent many years together enjoying their time together as a couple traveling, working, boating and being a family. My stepsister loved horses and they bought a home in Florida so she could compete in Equestrian events. My stepbrother loved the water and had a motorboat and speedboat. They lived on the water. The children stayed at home until college and then went on to college after high school.
The third family of one and two is our blended family together. We did not ever live together under one roof. By the time my father remarried, I, his youngest from his first marriage, was a freshman in college. We had no rooms of our own at his home with his new wife and her children. It was not our old home, but his new home. The oldest son and daughter of the first marriage, my father’s adopted children, my sister and brother, married in their twenties. My brother ended his marriage in a divorce with a woman strangely similar to our mentally ill adoptive mother. His first marriage lasted 14 years. My brother is sadly estranged from his children that he loves immensely and fights the courts to see them. My brother is very happily in his second marriage with a best friend and their 2 dogs.
The blended family of my father’s first and second marriage sees each other on holidays. The second marriage children, my father’s stepchildren have grown and graduated college. They still keep things at the family house, have bedrooms they call their own and come and go freely from a house they remember as home. There is such a large gap in how my father presented himself as a person in Family 1 and Family 2. And still does. But there is warmth and kindness and at the very least, a politeness amongst the children from the first and second marriage. Family 3 is more of a sub-family of the children. My father is too different with the two different families for there to be a unity throughout. A blending. It is more like 2 families operating on shifting schedules on the calendar. But friendships among the children have formed. The children have blended. Siblings and step-siblings can be a blessing in divorce.
Family 4 and 5.
Actually there are 5 families operating in our blended family. The first husband of my stepmother remains a distant figure but my stepbrother and stepsister see him more often now that they are older. My mother and wife of my father’s first marriage remains a distant figure, her mental health has fully declined and she is taken care of by my sister and I. My brother has not seen our adoptive mother but once in twenty-five years. The past is much too painful for him. And so all in all, we are five families. My father and my stepmother and us, his children from his first marriage are Family 1. My father, his wife and her children are Family 2. The blended family of stepsiblings that come together at the holidays is our Family 3. The estranged spouse, my mother and us, the children of my father’s side are Family 4. And the estranged spouse, ex-husband of my stepmother’s side and her children, my step-siblings are Family 5. Five family lives all lived in separate compartments with moving parts. There are different rules of engagement. Different dates and times on the annual calendar. And this for me, was the family life of my childhood and adult life until I started a family of my own.