Making room for blending families often resembles managing the pandemic. The difficulty and destruction certainly demand astute attention, matching many descriptions: reconcile, settle, resolve, to bring into harmony, to become friendly again, peace, smooth, meet to understand.
Blending demands mixing appreciation for various personalities, understanding and forgiveness. The end result is worth all the investment of time, thought and energy.
The McRoberts family of the 1940’s was an uncommon farming country family because our Dad was a traveling salesman who wore a suit, tie and carried a brief case. We saw him every other week end. He was outgoing, a good conversationalist, laughed a lot, liked to tease, enjoyed jokes, sports, games, music and loved gardening. He had sold many things: from Fuller brush, pots and pans, auto parts, tires to educational courses and organs.
On weekends, Dad played ball with us, had snowball fights, went fishing, played cards, listened to baseball, gave each of us a plot of ground for our own flower garden. We went on picnics, berry picking, singing around the piano—he played the piano and enjoyed getting Mac and me to sing duets. Mom and Dad invited military personnel from a base nearby to dinner. Dad brought home fireworks, marshmallows and hard to get rationed candy bars. He and mom were members of a farmers card club, they played croquet with neighbors, went to Sunday School and church, and on Saturday night we piled into his new Hudson to go to the library, grocery and movie of the closest town. We heard no arguments and observed the affection between them.
Then a cloud seemed to gather when we were pressured to move out of the farm house (the tenants wanted the main house) where we’d lived for 5 years, to rent another farm house for three months until Dad decided not to return home. He never could give a reason why he deserted us.
After Dad had been gone for several years, we learned that he and his new wife gave birth to a daughter. Since they lived near Chicago, while I was at Moody Bible Institute, on a free weekend I took a train to visit them. I never gave up keeping in touch with Dad.
Jim and I got married the morning after graduation to take advantage of our families from Texas and Ohio who attended both events. Our honeymoon consisted of driving to Ohio to visit my family and on to Waco, Texas where Jim began Baylor University. Visiting Dad was our first stop. His wife was in the hospital with daughter number 2, Brenda, born on our wedding day. I’d never forget her birthday. Dad told me several times that Brenda reminded him of me. They had three more children by 1960, making five. Then he deserted that family. We had no occasion or particular reason to get acquainted with or even discuss that we had five half sibs. Dad’s 2nd family was 20 years younger and we were all scattered in various states with young families.
When Mom quit driving at 93, mobile and quite lucid, we six needed to make other living arrangements for her. The option of staying in her home would hinge on hiring someone to live with her. To that, she strongly objected, declaring “I want to live with my children”. Not an easy option since we were scattered over 5 states. A designer circuit-assisted-living was set up where mom would live with each of her six children for a couple of months, then be delivered by car to the next residence. Our non-complaining, non-critical, easy-to-live-with mom became the traveling mom and grandma. Her request to live with her children was not only feasible but satisfactory to everyone. An unexpected bonus of the transfers was extra opportunities for sib visits. This worked until Shirley and Jane could no longer care for her. After the many years she volunteered visiting in rest homes, Mom made us promise we’d never put her in one, so a private assisted living was found near Shirley and Jane for her last two years. We celebrated her 100th birthday.
My friendship with half-sib, Brenda, began to grow when in 2013 she asked if I could help her get certified with DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution). I was delighted because our Dad’s sister, had leaned on me early on to get involved. She also expressed many times interest in getting acquainted with her half sibs I carefully considered her request.
After our dear mother died in 2007, we six sibs decided to add to our extended McRoberts camp-out reunion which meets every other year a sibling reunion once a year to keep in closer touch. All from different states, several of us have to fly and others have long road trips. We make plans way ahead. We visit, play board games, walk and eat. During our 2013 meeting Brother John led a discussion on the memory and attitude toward Dad’s leaving primarily to help David learn more since he was just 5 when Dad left. Expressions were made regarding dad’s absentee parenting style, some tussles as well as pleasant memories.
Mac brought up another serious agenda that he and I wanted to consider: inviting the half sibs to our next reunion. Mac led our discussion on what our moral and spiritual responsibility was or should be regarding our 5 half siblings. It was expressed that they don’t need us since they are all adults. I commented that they had a more absent dad than we had and he deserted them sooner. Since their mom had also passed, they would like some relatives. I shared with them my budding friendship with Brenda. Since the older siblings were somewhat apprehensive, we allowed plenty of time for dialogue. Several local adult nieces and nephews were listening to our family business meeting as we gathered in Jane’s apartment.
When I informed them that two of the half siblings live about 40 miles away from here, Jim (Jane’s son) suggested we invite them to come to their house for lunch at next year’s sibling reunion. Up to that time, we thought he was merely a listener not a problem solver. Everyone agreed to his unexpected and very generous offer. That plan would certainly be comfortable for all. We thanked the Lord for His love that binds us together. I was assigned to invite them.
After Brenda received the invitation she wrote:” I am so glad that you all decided that we were not the reason that our (yours and ours) Dad left your Mom. Young children really do not have much to say in the matter. I really wish that this could have been understood many years ago because I feel that we have missed some wonderful relationships. I mean, we are all related by blood and no one can deny that. My immediate family will hold this date open for Feb. 8th 2014. I am excited to finally meet my half brothers and sisters. “
Brenda, her older sister, and their husbands attended the dinner as planned. As we sat around the long table our conversation included each introducing themselves, etc. We invited them to ask any questions. We talked about our dad, their mom and they asked about our mom. We shared a common personal relationship with the Lord which enabled all this to happen so smoothly. An experience of a lifetime. The half-sibs were just thrilled to death to meet their family. “We were told our whole lives that you all didn’t want to have anything to do with us” Brenda said. We assured her that that was never the case. “My Dad and Mom got divorced when I was 12 years old and I only saw him three times after that, she shared.” They stayed until about 4:00. Bonding between the two families abounded.
Parents unwisely tell kids that their half sibs/step sibs want nothing to do with them. ‘Takes years to heal from false information. Blending children from different marriages requires patience, respect and understanding. You may not need your half-sibs or step-sibs but they may need you. Do what’s right not what is easy.
Another big step: Brenda and her husband, Paul, attended the next McRoberts Camp-Out reunion where 70 plus family gathered from all over the US. They were overjoyed by the warm reception from the extended family, embraced by cousins galore. Brenda expressed it better: “It was a wonderful time! I was very excited to meet people I had no idea that existed. Trying to match faces to the names I have heard over the years. It just amazed me that there were so many. It was also a wonderful way for us to celebrate our anniversary!
But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure, then peace loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness. James 3:17-18 (NIV)