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Two Empty Seats

Two Empty Seats

The Challenges of a Blended Family

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In anticipation of the upcoming holidays, I had an opportunity to reflect upon the uniqueness of my family and had one particularly powerful observation that I felt I wanted to share with you. No matter what the parenting or visitation arrangements are for each individual blended family, there always seems to be empty seats at someone's holiday table.

In my home, my children from my previous marriage live with us full time. I am sure that their father feels his loss quite vividly, especially during holiday times when he sees intact families celebrating together. As for my step-children, at one point, they spent every holiday in our home, leaving their mother behind to celebrate the holidays alone. Since our family moved several years ago, that has changed for all of us. I know that my step-children miss being with us as profoundly as we miss them, especially during these times. It does not seem to matter how many spaces we fill up at our table as our family grows, or how many guests we include in our festivities. It will always feel as if there are two empty chairs around our table when my step-children are not here with us.

It does not seem to matter how many spaces we fill up at our tableShared holidays, when the children go back and forth, or spend alternate holidays with one parent and then the other, does alleviate some of the pain but it does not take away the sense of longing for all of your children to be together. My husband and I are now (with G‑d's help) expecting our fourth child together and you would think that would keep us pretty occupied. Oddly, with each new addition is the realization that two of "our children" are missing out on those wonderful family experiences. As they are not fully participating in those occasions, it makes their absence that much more pronounced. Maybe it sounds selfish to those who have not experienced this phenomenon, but I think there are many of you out there who know exactly what I am talking about.

So how do we get through it? How do we keep those members of our family that are not with us an integral part of our celebrations? For my family, we hope and pray that someday soon we will be reunited as a family. Frequent calls keep us updated on what is going on with one another, and sharing how we spent the holidays allows us to feel connected in some small way. Additionally, my stepchildren spent many past holidays with us and we are fortunate to have memories and mementos saved from the times we did have together.

We share those things with our children who are too young to remember those times. For Passover, packed away with our special dishes, we have many of their school projects, personalized haggadahs and notes, and a very special washing towel, hand embroidered by my stepdaughter years ago, that we take out and use each year for our Seder. A Menorah that my stepson made in preschool is stored away each year and taken out even when he is not celebrating with us in our home. We use these to decorate our holiday table and have a chance to reflect on my stepchildren so that we feel as if a part of them is here with us.

We try and focus on the special times we shared, instead of the fact that they are not with us this year. No matter where they are physically, no one can take them from our thoughts or from that special place that they occupy in each of our hearts. We also make a point to relate these feelings to them so they know how important they are to us and how much they are missed.

I know there are situations where one parent or another feels that they "won" the right to have the children during a particularly meaningful time. They feel they have gained some "hard earned" points. My advice is to appreciate that you have such an opportunity, but remember, there is always someone out there missing them and yearning to share their holidays with them. Even if you and your former spouse have differing holiday customs or holiday rituals, do not allow your personal feelings or conflicts regarding the other parent to interfere with your child's expression of who they are.

Teach your children to be sensitive to their parent who may feel a sense of loss Bear in mind, especially during holiday times, how important it is for children to feel connected and loved by both of their parents. If their non-custodial parent does not initiate calls, then encourage the children to call and wish them well. Teach your children to be sensitive to their parent who may feel a sense of loss due to not spending the holidays with them. Think of it as giving the gift of feeling "loved" to your children. Teaching our children to be more sensitive, caring and compassionate of others does not cost anything and is a valuable lesson to be learned by all of us.

Susie Benzaquen is a mom living a real life "Yours, Mine and Ours." Her writing focuses on the challenges and rewards her family has faced over the years in blending their family into one. Susie immigrated to Israel several years ago and along with her husband is raising all of their eight children there.
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Janice Colorado December 31, 2014

Blended Family The first blended family was Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar, Ishmale and issac; how that work out? Should not be called "blended" most are not most should be called grinding. There is much counseling about "blended" familie that should be done; long before the "date"; much care should be considered; people need to be very healthy, have great financial, communication and people skills. What are the stats of 2nd marriages? what are the stats of 3rd marriages; where is the stability for children in these situations; just look at our current President;a product of "fatherlesness"; not one father committed to him through out his life. Reply

Susie February 27, 2013

Much apprecaited Thank you for your kind words. Remember time is a great healer and often when the situation is fresh we do not see the entire picture. Today's reality is often tomorrow's distant memory but how we act and react will be imprinted on our children and can affect who they will become. Reply

Anonymous Jerusalem February 27, 2013

thanks for sharing your experiences As the mother of a recently divorced daughter and several grandchildren i have found your articles very helpful and compassionate. Reply

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