“Here’s the story of a lovely lady……”
Ok, this is where the comparison ends between the Brady Bunch and Rebecca Eckler’s blended family. In her new book, Blissfully Blended Bullshit: The Uncomfortable Truth Of Blending Families, Eckler gets candid about the realities of blending families and the hard truth behind what it means to meld a new life with exes, in-laws, new children, bonus children, bio children, households and even a dog. We sat down with Eckler to talk about her new book, falling in and out of love and what she wants you to know about being blended.
By Rachel Naud
Why was it important to you to write this book?
There are two reasons I thought it was an important topic to write about candidly. I didn’t realize how hard being in a blended family was, and it was only AFTER I would vent to girlfriends, who were in, or had been, in blended worlds themselves, that they would admit that they had the same issues. I had no idea what they had/have been going through, again, until after I was the one to start the conversation. Also, I realized there was nothing out there about what to do AFTER you blend families. There is a lot out there about the stepmother/stepchild relationship, but there was nothing about what to do when blended stops being so splendid, and all the BS that pops up in blended families. When you blend families, it’s not just about ‘How To Be A Step-Parent.’ Blending affects everyone, from our in-laws, ex-in-laws, our exes. When I read the stats on blending families, I was shocked. By the year 2020, there will be more blended families in North America than any other kind of family makeup, so, really, there is an epidemic of people blending, who have no idea what to do after they blend. I wanted to help, or at least share, what people are going to have to deal with, and hopefully they can learn from my mistakes. When you reach a certain age, and get divorced, and start dating again, there is a huge probability that you will be dating someone who already has children. And no one has really shared what it’s really like to blend, and all the variations of people who need to get along for blended to be splendid. I also wanted people like my parents, my (now) ex’s parents, and friends, to understand what we all went through as we embarked on blending, as we blended, and sadly, as we unblended. Divorce is hard on everyone, but when a blended family breaks up, you’re not just breaking up with your partner, you’re also breaking up with their children as well. Someone needed to be very candid about how blending affects everyone, including people we don’t even think about. One example? I didn’t realize, when I had to tell my bio daughter’s father that another man was moving in and that I was pregnant, just how heartbreaking that was for me, because of course, by blending families, his daughter would have two bonus sisters and a new brother. How could that NOT affect him? And there was that time when my now ex-mother-in-law pretty much said she loved my son— her bio grandson — ‘not the same’ as she loved my daughter, who also came out of me!
Now that’s it out there for the world to read, including your ex and his kids, are you concerned you might hurt some family members’ feelings? Did you think about that when you were writing it?
I was extremely nervous about their reaction, but I’m the type of writer who writes like no one else is reading, as if I’m just having a private conversation with a girlfriend over cocktails. It was extremely important to me to be as truthful and candid as possible about blending families and my experience, and I couldn’t do that, unless I wrote as if no one in my blended family would read it. I tried to be as fair as possible. Will their feelings be hurt? I’m not sure. Probably, in some parts, yes! I also think they’ll be a little shocked at how I felt during those seven years of blending. And, truthfully, I’m not really sure I care anymore, because I wrote my truths. It *may* come across as me criticizing them, because the truth can hurt! But, listen, I don’t come across as being all rainbows and roses either. There are many instances in the book where I come across as a jealous, resentful, unreasonable bitch. But, I hope, at least, they can see why, in certain instances, why I acted the way I did and how hard it was on me. But, with blended families, there are always divided loyalties, so I’m sure this will be the same with the book. I’m sure, in many parts, my (now) ex, and his side of the family, will not be thrilled. But my bio daughter, Rowan, when she got the book last week, immediately took a photo of it and posted it on her Instagram account, saying, “Buy my mom’s book!” So, throughout the book, you can see the divided loyalties — and that, in a lot of instances, “blood is thicker” than water — and I’m pretty sure the reaction will be the same for the Blissfully Blended Bullshit. But, also, I feel like everyone in my family who reads it, including my parents, will finally be, “I had no idea you went through that.” Or, “OK, NOW I understand blended families.” Also, it’s not like my blended family didn’t know what I did for a living. They know that I’m extremely candid about what I write. They didn’t seem to mind when I wrote kindly about them, in blogs, or when we were featured in magazines or newspapers. So, they can’t just like “the good” and not “the bad.”
You never mention the names of your blended family in this book? How come?
I mention my bio children’s name, but not my (now) ex and his children’s names. The names aren’t really important; it’s the experience that we all went through that is important. Well, I feel completely OK with sharing our story of blending worlds, it wasn’t necessary to name my ex or his children’s names. In Blissfully Blended Bullshit, I refer to them as my “Bonus Daughters,” and my (now) ex, as “My partner.” My (now) ex’s children are older now, too, so because it really wasn’t necessary to use their names, it didn’t feel quite right to name them, without their permission. And, again, it wasn’t necessary.
Rowan, your bio daughter, is mentioned a lot in this book? How does she feel about it?
She is so beyond proud. Aside from editors, media and those who were asked to “blurb” the book, she was the first *real* reader to read it. Like I said, as soon as the book arrived, she immediately took a photograph of it and posted it on her Instagram page, writing, “Buy my mom’s new book.” Rowan and I are super close, so a lot of things that happened in the book, she already knew…and lived through! There is one section in the book where, after my partner and I broke up, where I asked her, “Do you think it was the right decision to split up?” (As anyone who divorces asks themselves.) She said, “Mommy, I think a lot of the stress I’ve been going through in the last two years was because you guys were fighting so much. That was like a knife to my heart! I cried that night. But it immediately made me realize that, yes, it was the right decision.
What was the biggest surprise to you about being blended?
One of the biggest surprises was that we were actually blissfully blended for the first couple of years. Then, it seemed to just…turn. Experts say it takes five years for people to “find their roles” within a blended family. But, for my blended family, and so many other people I know who were in blended families, it got worse, not better after five years. So, experts can fuck right off! Resentments had built up. There were grudges. Most of all, ALL of us stopped trying at some point. Another was how often I had to lower my expectations. Another was realizing that our blended lives were STILL connected to our exes. So, for example, as I mention in the book, I wanted my partners two children to go to the same overnight camp that my daughter had attended for years, even offering to pay, so his two children could bond with my bio daughter over the summer. My (now) ex’s ex-wife didn’t agree with the camp, for whatever reason, and so my bio daughter and my (now) ex-partner’s bio daughters didn’t spend an entire summer together and never did. Honestly, my bonus children were pretty great. They didn’t hate me. They were nice and outgoing. But I was surprised, too, that after so many years that the children didn’t bond as much as I had hoped they would. And, that too goes for my relationship with them. Like I said, at some point, we all just stopped trying. The biggest part that shocked me, when we were un-blending, was that I never got closure with my ex’s children. My ex moved all their stuff out. So, I had closure with my ex, but I really didn’t even get to say some sort of goodbye to them, and they had been in my life for seven years! I did send them a text, telling them they could always reach out to me and I’d be there. It’s completely weird, odd, to know that there are two young adults out there, who are siblings to my son (the son me and my (now) ex-partner added to the mix thanks to a reverse vasectomy) who I rarely see, and only text with occasionally. And my bio daughter, Rowan, doesn’t have a relationship with my ex at all, and only a relationship with her ex-bonus sisters, by “liking” their posts on Instagram. I think you need to have a very special and big heart to be in a blended family for it to work, if not splendidly, at least to be reasonably happy. I also still wonder if maybe I was just not meant to be in a blended family, that I didn’t have what it takes to be in one. I don’t know. I was also surprised, looking back, how little I did for his children (carpooling them) and how little he did for my bio daughter. I would have worked on that a lot more, looking back.
I really felt for you in some of these chapters – especially the prom dress shopping escapade and then the ultimate Prom Diss. You mentioned the thought hadn’t even crossed your mind that you would be left out of this – and other – important milestones. Did you ever think blended life would be like that?
No. When my (now) ex-partner and I blended, we really didn’t go in with any forethought to, well, much. We acted like free-wheeling teenagers. We didn’t discuss much before blending or how we would see it playing out. Oh, glorious love! I realized after “The Prom Invite Diss” that this was my life. My (now ex) bonus daughters have a wonderful mother who they are very loyal to, as they should be. But did it sting to be left out on the night of taking pictures on my bonus daughter’s prom night? Absolutely! I cried that night in bed, feeling completely left out, and this was years after we had blended. And I also really got very anxious whenever my daughter’s father and my (now) ex-partner were ever in the same room. Not everyone can “positively” co-parent. It was incredibly awkward for me, whenever my daughter’s father and my (now ex) partner were in the same room for recitals or graduations, or even when Rowan’s dad would pick her up, and my partner was there. I never got over feeling completely awkward, even after years. I still have great loyalty to my daughter’s father, which, I think, looking back, undermined my relationship with my partner. I’m sorry, this whole, “I’m going to have Sunday night dinners with my ex and my new partner like we’re all one big happy family” was never going to happen. Why did I feel so awkward, as I’m sure my daughter’s father did as well as my partner? Because it IS fucking awkward! And not just for me and my ex and my partner. Remember, there are grandparents too, who also wanted to attended hockey games, recitals, graduations. It was always slightly awkward when someone from my past life had to be in the same room as the people in my present life. That’s, too, why I think people who have children who are embarking on blending, or are parents to children who have blended, should read Blissfully Blended Bullshit. Like I’ve said many times, blending affects people we would never ever think of immediately.
In the same(ish) vein, you also admit that you didn’t invite your ex to many of Rowan’s special school events because it would be uncomfortable. Do you think this was a double standard from your point of view of not wanting to be left out of his daughter’s lives? If not, why?
For me, it was always awkward, because I’m still incredibly loyal to my daughter’s father, which, may have undermined my relationship with my (now) ex-partner. It was also awkward for me, too, as well as my bonus daughters, when I WOULD go to their graduations. I remember having a photo taken with one of my bonus children, after her graduation from high school, and her mother was standing, right there, watching us. So…it was awkward or uncomfortable for bonus child, and I’m assuming her bio mother, and me! I think, if I had maybe made more of an effort to get to know, or at least manage to be friendly, with my bonus children’s bio mother, it would have been different. But, as I write in Blissfully Blended Bullshit, I did make a phone call to her, introducing myself, and asking if she wanted to come to my house, to see where and how her children would be living 50 per cent of the time. She did not take me up on the invitation. She seemed completely ambivalent about meeting me or seeing where her children would be living 50 per cent of the time, or that I was pregnant, so her two bio children would be having a new sibling. So, I didn’t, admittedly, try to get to know her, after that, although she seems like a nice person. She was just completely indifferent, or that’s how I saw it, when it came to me, and where her children would be living 50 per cent of the time. But, really, that may be a blessing in disguise. I know a lot of step-mothers who constantly hound their ex’s after they move on and do so for years. So maybe her indifference to me, and her children’s new lives, was better than having her constantly in our lives.
I love the title of this book, but in many instances, it could have also been entitled “AWKWARD.” With so many instances wherein you mention it would be uncomfortable and awkward to blend certain family members, what did you learn most about dealing with the varied relationships that come with being blended?
I came up with the title, Blissfully Blended Bullshit, because it was blissful, when we first blended, and then came the B.S. and arguments over money, who does more in the house, who takes more care of the baby. I learned very early on to not tell bonus children anything I didn’t want their mother to know, as it was pretty clear from the start their loyalty was with their mother, just as my daughter’s loyalty was to me. The full title is, “Blissfully Blended Bullshit: The Uncomfortable Truth of Blending Families.” Because, yes, many times it WAS awkward, but it was also very uncomfortable, when my past met my present. I also always had a pit in my stomach, as we unraveled. I learned, the most, about divided loyalties. Early in the book, I write about how my (now) ex-mother-in-law actually said to me that the love she had for my son (her bio grandson) was “not the same” as the love she had for my daughter (who doesn’t share the same D.N.A.) That was a heartbreaking moment for me, because the question of love is always on your mind when you blend families. She was just the first person to say it out loud! I was so fucking angry. And, in my blended family, whenever someone would ask “How many children do you have?” I felt fucking clueless. It felt wrong to say I had four children (since only two were my bio). But it also felt wrong to say I had two children (since I had two bonus children.) This is something traditional families don’t have to deal with, but the question of “love” and “can you really love all the children the same?” quite frankly is a very tricky question, even if it’s such a simple question! But did I love my bonus children as much as I loved my bio-children? I can sit here for hours thinking about it, and have thought about it for endless hours, and the best I can come up with is that I had great fondness for them, and really cared about them, even if I sometimes didn’t show it. Am I sad that I don’t really have any relationship with my now ex-bonus daughters? Yes. It’s heartbreaking, especially because family means a lot to me, and they are related to my son and share a brother with my bio daughter!!
You mention that very rarely did you take care of each other’s children. And, that while you lived together, your finances were certainly not married. How do you think this affected your ability to truly blend?
GRRR. I wish we had talked about the division of money, the main source of our arguments, before we blended. I often think a lot of my resentment that built up over the years, was because he moved into MY house. And I could never truly quite get over the fact, that, in my opinion, he didn’t chip in with some sort of rent or offer to pay some of the mortgage. I often think it would have been better if we had moved into an entirely new home from the start, because, also, I could never quite get over, or it was always in the back of my mind, that this was me and my daughter’s house. Like I said, you need a really, really big heart to make blending families work. But, in his defense, he did chip in, in other ways. He would make dinners and clean up and bought all the household necessities, like toilet paper and toothpaste. Also, because his daughters lived outside of Toronto (in Aurora) he would spend hours and hours every week, driving them to and from our house to their house in Aurora. So, I always felt that I was paying for almost everything, while he believed (and, in many instances it was true) he gave up a lot by moving an hour drive away from his children.
What advice would you give other families about to blend?
Where do I begin? Talk about everything before you blend, from who is going to pay for what, to parenting styles, to who should be disciplining the children. Don’t let “love goggles” get in the way of reality, as I did. Prepare yourself to lower your expectations. (I’m the type of person who does have high expectations, so am, and was, often let down, after we blended.) Prepare to be “the bigger person,” a lot of the time. (I’ve really worked on these traits.) Don’t take things personally. You can’t force love. Make your home as welcoming as you can for everyone. Therapy, with the new family, is not the worst idea (I think we should have done that from the start, if I had a do-over.) And just know that blending is so, so hard, and that you are not alone with how you are feeling, and that, at any given time, someone is going to feel left out, hurt, upset. Continue with one-on-one dates with your bio children. Find the balance, if you can, of being there for your children, while at the same time, finding happiness with your partner. Don’t rush into it! We rushed, and, looking back, I don’t think my (now) ex-partner’s children were over their parents’ divorce, before we blended. I can go on, and on, which is why this book is so important to me.
What did you wish you had known?
In one sentence? “Blending is so, so hard!”
What was the biggest lesson you learned about yourself throughout this whole experience?
If you’re asking, if I would blend again, the answer is ‘Yes’ but not before we talked about every single detail and every possible scenario that could occur. I learned to lower my expectations a lot. I learned to try and not take things personally a lot. Mostly, I learned that we should not have rushed into a blended household. I really hate thinking about this, and, ultimately there are no do-overs in certain experiences in life, but I learned that maybe, mostly because I was so unprepared for what was to come, and what I had to do to make blended splendid, that maybe, just maybe, I was just not meant to be in a blended family, at least not then. I was heartbroken when we finally called it quits, but I know it was the right decision ultimately. I learned to be less selfish, I think, too. As our blended family unfolded, I suffered a lot, and, when it comes to blended families, love is not ultimately enough. After all, you have loved your children first, you have known your children before your partner. But I will always, always wonder if I tried hard enough, and what we could have done differently to make our blended family work. And maybe, though I will always love my ex, because he is the father of my son, that maybe WE were just not meant to be. There are a ton of “What ifs” that ran through my mind, for an entire year after my partner and his children moved out. But, yes, honestly? I guess the biggest take away that I learned was to be less selfish, possibly, and candidly, a little too late.
Finally, after that night, did you burn that Batgirl costume?
I never want to think about that costume ever again! Because that was the night when I knew that I had fallen out of love, quite frankly, in an instant, even though I continued to try and work to make our blended family work for two more years. Believe me, most people in “second chance” relationships who blend, don’t want to “fail,” for lack of a better word, again, and go through a divorce a second time! I’ve asked my daughter, who is turning 16, if she thought that I was a bad role model when it came to relationships and I also have had many long conversations to make sure that her view on relationships and marriage aren’t skewed. Luckily, it doesn’t seem to have affected her. She’s happy, well-adjusted and loves her brother. For that, I’m eternally grateful.
Blissfully Blended Bullshit: The Uncomfortable Truth on Blending Families can be found in bookstores on May 25th or purchased here.