Focus on the [Blended] Family?

Christmas with The Brady Bunch

Christmas with The Brady Bunch (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Kids are a lot of work.  They demand tons of attention and care.  Not the level of attention a fine rose garden needs, not even the level of small house pets. Kids need that special kind of attention and care that involves focus and of course love.  This need never goes away.  In fact, it has an inverse reaction to the parent’s ability to give. The less you have, the more they need.  I found this unforgiving truth to be my reality 5 years ago when my ex wife made choices that removed her from our lives.  As a single dad  of then a 12 year old girl, 5 year old boy, and 3 year old girl, my attention was well spoken for.

For 5 years I have learned to survive and now thrive as a dad, focused primarily on being a dad.  Now I am engaged and this focus must once again change.  My focus must  be on my wife; my new wife.  Many people believe divorced parents should not re-marry until the kids are adults.  It’s a reasonable opinion and I disagree. The value a mother and father (biological or not) bring together is exponential when compared to solo parenting.  I have been thinking about the necessities and managing this dynamic for a while. Here are a few important things to consider as you move into remarriage with kids:

1. Money: It’s not your money, it’s not her money…it all belongs to the kids. Kids break their arms, get the flu, need cars, college, birthday parties, etc.  Don’t keep score, you will lose.

2. Be careful with opinions of his/her ex spouse.  She has emotional memories that don’t include you.  She experiences moments (arguments, misunderstandings, etc) with different perspectives than you.

3. God:  As a person of faith, I can’t imagine having a blended family with different religions in the house. Some people can manage a multi faith home, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

4. Discipline: However you dish it, talk about it early and often.  Disciplining someone elses’ child feels very different.  Children, bring “history” into every situation, as a “late arrival” the new step parent hasn’t shared those experiences.  Discuss this with your partner and periodically check in.  Be courageous and don’t sugar coat.  Resentment can build between you if you feel like you have to “defend” your kids or someone isn’t carrying his or her weight with discipline.  There’s no perfect formula, but at least have a one.

5.  Labels suck.  Don’t stress over things like “my kids” or “your kids”.   A lot of new experiences, emotions, and worries are coming forth, stressing labels is ridiculous.

6. Sex:  You better have sex!  Do everything possible to keep the kids from interrupting intimacy.  Bed time routines, consistent rules, and communication are key here.  Establish early on that sex occurs when either partner wants it.  Don’t wait for perfect moments or for both people to be perfectly aligned and in the mood, that rarely happens.  Mark and Grace Driscoll wrote a great book on this called Real Marriage: the truth about Sex, Friendship, and Life together. Buy two copies and read it on date night.

7. It’s not supposed to be easy. Don’t worry that it’s difficult at times.  Good things are worth working for.

The common denominator here is communication and intimacy.  Our kids are special and a huge part of who we are, but they grow up and leave.  My spouse should be my best friend.  I plan on sitting on rocking chairs watching waves hit the beach on my 90th birthday. I plan on my wife being there with me and us actually having something to talk about.

Rocco De Leo


Me and Mom: A special post of lessons by Jamie Volbrecht

English: Behemoth , roller coaster at Canada's...

English: Behemoth , roller coaster at Canada’s Wonderland. Français : Behemoth , montagnes russes à Canada’s Wonderland. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I grew up in a very loving home; there were plenty of hugs and kisses but the basics for a child’s development such as discipline, boundaries and knowledge were absent. The trade off has been unfortunate, as a hug won’t teach you about preserving your innocence and a kiss won’t convey consequences. Around the age of 14, I started experimenting with sex, drugs and rock and roll. My teachers,my peers, other teenage girls, not even old enough to drive yet they were experts in sexual homeruns and recreational drug use. My mother always assumed that if I wasn’t talking about it, then I wasn’t doing it, however, on the contrary, she also believed that if she talked about it then that was an invitation to experiment.

As a young and very influential girl, I needed to know why we should preserve sexual intercourse for marriage or what permanent affects drugs can do to your body and mind.

I was impressionable and ready to take on the world

Unfortunately, I was about to enter high school alone and completely vulnerable as I had already closed off my relationship with my mom.

As I look back upon my youth, there were two events that profoundly shaped my future, the day I replaced my mother with invaluable fascinations and the day I stopped trusting her.

I remember the last day of my innocence, the day I detached from my mother. It was the summer before freshman year, and my mother decided to take me to the movies. As we walked into the mall we were holding hands, as we always did. I remember seeing other teenage girls without their parents. It was a day no different from any other, however, that day I was different. For the first time, I saw independence seeping from these girls and I was immediately attracted to their youthful complexity. At that moment I was captivated by what I saw, and at that moment I let go of my mother’s hand, and to this day, I have never been able to re connect with her.

The second event occurred one year later. I had been at an amusement park all day with my best friend and when I got home, my mom approached us to ask about the day. I remember her blank stare mid way through our conversation. Pointing to my neck, she sternly asked “Jamie, what is on your neck?” I didn’t know what she was referring to so I responded, that I had no idea. My mother left the room and my friend informed me that I had a hickey on my neck. You see, earlier in the day at the amusement park, my friend and I met up with two boys. This was one of the first times I explored my my sexual promiscuity and since I never spoke with my mom about sex, I didn’t know about these bruise-like marks caused by kissing. After my friend left, my mother and I yelled at each other. She told me how disappointed she was in me and I responded with anxious rebellion. A few days later my mother left a note for me on my dresser informing me that she didn’t know who I was anymore and she was in disbelief learning about my sexual activity. She disclosed to me that she read my diary because she felt like that was the only way she was going to find out who I was. That was the moment I lost respect for her and no longer trusted her, this comepletely ruined our relationship and too it to the point of unsalvageable hope.

She didn’t know who I had become; she assumed she knew me. She didn’t teach me about life and consequences, she didn’t give me the tools I needed to make healthy choices. It’s not neccesarily her fault because she may not have realized what she was or wasn’t doing. I believe she was doing her best as single mom. With that said we as parents need to do the best we can. When you know what you need to do to make sure your children become well adjusted adults, don’t ignore it.

I look back on these two events and where my mother could have taken this opportunity to communicate with me about what I was feeling. When I let go of her hand, I’m sure she was crushed, this is when she should have had a conversation with me about self-development, instead, she grabbed on even tighter.

As I sit here writing this blog, I’m multitasking as most mothers do. I’m typing on my laptop with my right hand while feeding my 5-week-old daughter with a bottle in my left hand. As I look at her, I hope to have a different type of mother-daughter relationship. I hope for respect, trust and communication. I believe that my mother did the best she could and as parents we always do the best we can. We also need to take what we have learned from our own relationships with our parents and use it toward our own parenting. I constantly communicate with my 5 year old son, I teach him emotional vocabulary so he can communicate his feelings. With both of my children, I will talk to them about everything regardless of what they are doing.

If you are out with your children and you see someone smoking talk to them about the affects of cigarette smoke to your body. If you are watching a movie and there is a scene with fighting, talk to them, tell then how you want them to handle confrontations with their peers. Just yesterday my son and I were listening to some country music and I took a moment to explain to him that the song was a love song. In the song the guy and the girl miss each other because they love each other.

It just takes a second to talk, even if it seems like a trivial lesson.

A few months ago I was on a hike with my son and we both smelled marjajuana. He asked me about the it. I was truthful. If I’m honest with him, he will be honest with me. I told him it was a drug called marijuana, also referred to as pot and weed and when you smoke it, it compromises your ability to act rational, I told him it basically makes you act silly and its not good for your body. I told him that if he is ever offered it, to say no and then talk to his dad or me. I think about what my mother would have said to me of this same situation happened to me when I was a little girl and I have to think that she would have told me that she didn’t know or it was the smell of the tall redwood trees that hovered over us.

Jamie Volbrecht

A 5 year old’s Dating Wisdom

So what do you say to a five year old who openly discusses his interest in dating with you, specifically, the acceptance of his potential partners bad habit? Today, I realized that my son’s journey toward embracing a healthy and loving relationship could be mapped out at an early age, given the tools to understand his self-worth and self-empowerment.

As I sat next to him in the movie theaters today watching OZ the great and powerful, I started to write. The wizard in this film had just revealed his dashing style and playboy type mannerisms. We, the audience can assume he’s capable of landing love with any fair maiden, even with a witch. He appears to have it all, charm and power, a keen ability to lie, and he’s in tune with the effectiveness of gift giving.

Earlier today, my son and I had a discussion about a nasty habit, smoking. As we left an appointment, we stepped out of the elevator with the trail of cigarette smoke from someone that had been smoking still lingering. He could smell the odor and asked me why people smoke? I informed him that smoking is an addiction, it’s bad for your health, and it’s a good idea that he never smokes. I also added that he shouldn’t associate himself with anyone who smokes as these people may tempt this habit upon him. He said, “what if I like a girl who smokes?” Great question. I replied, “I probably would not date anyone that smokes because why would you want to date someone that doesn’t take care of herself?” His reply was, “would it be wrong to date her if I smoke too?” I replied, “you can do what you want once you are 18, once you become an adult, but I suggest you don’t smoke and don’t date any girls that smoke or do drugs.”

It’s not too early to ask these things of him. We concluded this conversation with me asking him to promise me that he’ll stop and think about what we have discussed before he try’s smoking for the first time and that he will try not to date anyone that smokes. However, I did include that if both him and his girlfriend smoke, the next best thing is to help each other quit. As his parent, it’s my goal to teach my son about taking care of himself. Teach him good eating habits, teach him manners and teach him the importance of surrounding himself with polite and health conscious people.

I finish writing this blog while watching the final scenes from the film OZ. I continue to observe the character of the wizard; he felt he was not capable of saving the people of Oz from the wicked witch until he realized that he was capable of creating a plan to overcome the witch’s power with the help from the people. Witches have nasty habits but they can be defeated. My son will be equipped with knowledge of all that’s wicked and will know how to follow the yellow brick road to get to where he wants because he will have a plan.

In the final few minutes of this film OZ, the good witch and bad witch battle it out. The bad witch looses her emerald necklace also loosing her fake beauty. She turns into an old maid looking like your typical Halloween styled witch riding a broom in the sky. In the final scene, my son says, “oh she has turned ugly.” I said “that’s what happens to your skin when you smoke.” Ok, yes, I know a little too aggressive on my end. Anyway, he says, “the wicked witch smokes?” I replied, “most likely.”

A parent will be their child’s most important critic in life. It’s important to review your children constantly and rate their life progress as we do with films. It’s important to assume that your child is experimenting with sex, drugs and other destructive and enticing elements of life. Just because you don’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not happening. In my next blog, I will discuss equipping your child with knowledge and confidence, a plan to have every base covered even if there’s no home run.

Jamie Volbrecht