This is not a political piece.
Yes, it will discuss Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, but it’s about blended families. Stay with me.
While watching the lead-up to and the election results come in, I realized what I was really looking forward to.
You know what I’m excited about the world seeing? What a blended family — husband, wife, ex/exes, children — who loves each other & who respect each others’ role in the family looks like. Not every divorce leads to messy, angry relationships. Some just become big, crazy families.— Jana Lawrence (@ohjanabelle) November 8, 2020
I’d like to talk about blended families, specifically Functional Blended Families. I’ll start with my background.
I was married to Jason for 15 years. Together, we had two children. Charlie, who died at 3 weeks old in 2003, and Henry, who is now 16.
We divorced in 2015, agreeing that neither of us was happy in our current situation and that while we loved each other, we couldn’t continue to live as roommates, and all we wanted in life was for each other TO be happy. This was very confusing to most people, as there was no tangible reason for our divorce, just that we weren’t happy. Which, honestly, is a tangible reason.
It was friendly. We used one attorney, had basically no disagreements, and always put Henry first in our decisions. Jason moved into a condo my parents have in downtown Atlanta, making my dad his landlord. I stayed in the house. People were so confused.
I met Brian in late 2016. He had been married for a bunch of years, and had two daughters (now 12 and 17). We got married about 10 months later and moved to his apartment. Jason moved back into our house. People were more confused.
One of the first things I told Brian when we started talking, was that my ex-husband was one of my best friends, that we get along, and if that was a problem, well, he just needed to know up front because it wasn’t going to change. It was important to me that it not be an issue and if it was, I wasn’t going to waste my time or his. He thought it was fantastic and wished he could say the same.
Our kids got along like they’d known each other their whole lives. Likewise, Jason and Brian got along like they were maybe neighbors growing up, who played football out back after school. My heart was happier than ever.
Some beautiful examples of how our family shows love to one another…
- Jason gave us a wedding gift.
- We keep each others’ dog when we travel.
- He and Brian bro-hugged when Georgia won the Rose Bowl and might have cried a little together when they lost the National Championship… in the same shirt, no less.
- Brian and Jason text one another to talk about how terrible the Bulldogs are playing or how excited they are about the good things they’re doing.
- Jason gives Brian’s girls Christmas presents and loves them like he would his nieces if he had any.
- We bring Jason back gifts from vacation as a thank you for checking on things and keeping our dog.
- My parents still check in with Jason from time to time. And I check in on his Mom.
- We tend to his house when he’s gone, and he to ours.
- The youngest daughter always wants to show Mr. Jason her newest and greatest trick or baby or room decor. She asks to see him every time she’s here.
- The oldest daughter will graduate on Charlie’s birthday and wants to both invite Jason to graduation and wear a giraffe pin in Charlie’s honor, since he should be graduating, too.
- When I was diagnosed with cancer, Jason’s first question to Brian was, “How can I help?”
- When Brian had a heart attack, Jason’s first question to me was, “How can I help?”
- When Jason had some stuff going on, our first question to him was, “How can we help?”
- Jason stayed a full week, in our home, with the kids while we escaped from reality for a bit. He volunteered to do so.
All that to say, it’s charming. It’s quaint. It’s totally normal to us. But for most people, it’s just weird and impossible. We’re just over here, living our lives as one big, happy, crazy, possibly-too-functional family.
Oh, and we have photos to prove it.
When we were divorcing, like I said, our goal was to put Henry first. By doing that, we were able to make all decisions with that as our guiding compass. If it was good for Henry, then that’s what we would do. We also went through the process very quickly, allowing for very little time to disagree and get angry and wallow in it. Those two things, in my opinion, are keys to maintaining functionality during a divorce.
Love them or hate them, we are about to have an administration with very beautiful family dynamics. Both Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have Functional Blended Families who are full of love and support.
The First Family
After the death of his wife and daughter in a car accident in 1972, Joe Biden was left as a single father of two little boys and a newly-elected Senator. Grieving likely took a back seat to the day-to-day hustle that those giant roles required.
A few years later, he met the future Jill Biden. His boys are the ones who pushed for them to marry. They loved Jill and knew how happy she made them and Joe and wanted to be a family. It would prove to be a beautiful decision. They married in 1977 and with her, began to rebuild his life. Together, they have a daughter, completing their family.
Jill took his two boys in and never tried to replace their mother, but went from “Jill” to “Mom” over time. She made sure to reach out to their mother’s parents to fill them in on their grandchildren and their lives. She treated them as her own, but always honored that they were not hers biologically.
In my bathroom of the house I grew up in, there was a plaque that said, “Any man can be a father, but it takes a special person to be a Daddy.” This reminds me of that. Jill would never be those boys’ mother, but she could absolutely be their mom. She loves them and treats them just as she does the daughter she had with Joe.
The Second Family
At their home on the grounds of the Naval Observatory, the Second Family will represent a family that looks a lot like mine.
Doug Emhoff, the Second Gentleman-elect, was married to Kerstin for 16 years and they had two children, Cole and Ella. Kamala Harris had never married.
In 2013, Doug and Kamala were set up by a friend and married the next year.
Kamala has said that she was very worried about meeting Doug’s children because, as a child of divorce, she didn’t want to disappoint them. But she was welcomed with open arms, by both of Doug’s children AND his ex-wife.
Kamala credits Kerstin with her relationship with Cole and Ella, and is now revered as Momala. She claims that her family is “almost too functional” given the relationship that the whole family has.
Kerstin is said to have told Doug to “not mess it up” with Kamala and even volunteered with her campaign during her run for President, much to the shock of others in the campaign. Because what? His ex is helping?
Kerstin is Kamala and Doug’s Jason. A cheerleader, a support person, another seat at the table.
I look forward to watching these families over the next four years, with their young-adult children, an ex-wife, and the first Second Gentleman.
The Biden family, the new First Family, looks like a lot of families in this country.
The Harris-Emhoff family, the new Second Family, looks like a lot of families in this country, including mine.
Blended families tend to have such a bad reputation in this country. Conflict between exes and ex-familes is assumed and expected. While this is often what happens, it doesn’t HAVE to happen.
Maybe it’s time to look at Functional Blended Families as something we strive to achieve. Divorce is not going to go away. A spouse/partner isn’t going to live forever. Put your children first when divorcing, and put kindness first all other times.
Families, no matter what they look like, how big or small they are, can be just that — a family, simply going about their business, full of unconditional love for each other.
*Note: I understand there are times when this is NOT possible. I understand that there are situations that make kindness and empathy and gentleness hard to come by. Every situation is different.