Family in Red

Don’t let anyone tell you it can’t be done by Kerry Nel

I can very clearly remember the moments I knew my ex husband and I would not be together forever. For me, these were spaces in time where I began to understand that, whatever had just happened, had created a break that no matter how much we wanted to, could not be patched together.

It had started as unhappy rumblings and had been washed aside with rationalizations like “… well nobody is happy all the time” and “maybe this is just what marriage is”.

From these whispers, the noise grew until it began to shake our foundations and now had turned into these moments- made even more surreal because they were so conscious. Knowing that things will never be the same has a way of knocking someone off their feet – no matter who you are.

And that means uncertainty- the terrible gap where imagination can play its cruel tricks, where you doubt everything you thought you knew to be true and real. Exacerbated, in my case, by two things, 1. I come from a pretty terrible story of how not to blend families together and 2. almost every person will tell you that bringing two families together in a whole and meaningful way is quite simply unplayable.

I’m here to debunk that common misconception and make it clear that creating a happy blended home can be done.

But lets take a few steps back…I am the product of the “how-not to-do-this-series on family integration”. Tough to grow up with a stepfather who really has the emotional intelligence of an amoeba (even with his own children) and as a result creates a home that is filled with deafening silence.  That is a whole other story, but its safe to say that one of my own narratives was that re-marriage was certainly not something that I would entertain lightly.

Knowing that I would not be spending forever with my ex husband opened this door for me and scared me shitless. NO matter how unhappy one might be every parent would contemplate sacrificing themselves for their children- this made even more sense for me based on my unfortunate experiences.

What I realize now, is that having the perfect example of what not to do has meant that I have been relentless in creating the kind of home that my stepfather had failed to create.

And that home is built on some really simple principles- most of which had always seemed relatively intuitive to me, but had remained theory until I had the opportunity to live them.

1.You are the adult… always act like one

I don’t mean to sound glib here but understanding this will lay the foundation for the kind of home you will build.  And if that is something that matters to you – which quite simply should be the case – then always acting like the adult should be something that you take very seriously. Now, that may sound relatively simple because you are an adult, but actually this may well be the trickiest part of your day for the next 40 years. No matter how evolved we are as humans, we all have our bad days, days when we would prefer to be number 1 on somebody’s list as opposed to number 2. We know them and we hate having them but they do happen and the thing is … even on these days, you still need to behave like the adult.

2.Everyone responds to love and warmth

My theory, as a person who has played both the child and adult roles in a blended family situation, is that we are all after the same thing.  And yes… even when it comes to families where children are slightly older, the same principle applies … every person will respond to genuine love and warmth. Remember this at times when you feel overwhelmed or distrusting and most importantly, when you are having those emotions, remember rule number 1.

3. Don’t strive for perfection because it doesn’t exist – just be real

The only thing any home can do for its people is provide love, safety and sanctuary. In the journey that your blended family goes on, there is no doubt that there will be moments of uncertainty and questioning. There will most certainly be regrets and mistakes, but the key here is not to strive for a home that gives the illusion of perfection but rather one that allows for just being real.

The home that my wonderful new husband and I have created for all our children is everything that I always wanted my childhood home to be. Authentic, accepting and full of laughter. The passageways reverberate with hysterical, joyful screams and stampeding bodies that roll in like thunder. Do we make mistakes … absolutely… but don’t let anyone tell you that it can’t be done


  1. Julia Muriel OKAFOR

    I love what you shared. ?.. I believe our past experiences are synchronization of what we have to contribute to the world.

    I grew up under grandparents who abused each other and I never had a mother around as she was in exile all my life. She left me while I was 3 months. I lacked the motherly love.

    Now in my adult life, I decided to break abusive chain and are fighti to give as little as I can what I missed as a child, to my children. And I would like to extend that to ohter families.

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