I’ve been a regular Contributor to HuffPost since 2015. After posting more than 60 articles about relationships and effective living, HuffPost asked to interview me for its Blended Families Feature.
HuffPost: How many family members do you have?
Grace: My husband, Ron, and I share four children. They’re adults now, and the guys have young children of their own. So we have four grandchildren, a girl and three boys.
HuffPost: How long have you and your spouse been together?
Grace: Ron and I met in 1991, when I was turning forty and I’d been a single parent of my three sons for seven years. At that point, I only wanted one more romantic relationship in my life – one based on real love and shared purpose. And since I didn’t want to settle for less, I’d gone years without a date. Meanwhile, 4,000 miles away, Ron saw my photo on a book on parenting I’d coauthored, and he says that he “knew inside” that I was the one he would marry someday, and he eventually traveled from Amsterdam to America to find me.
HuffPost: What is one specific problem you’ve faced, and how have you addressed it?
Grace: We’re not only a blended family, but we’re also a bicultural one. And our biggest challenge has been the pain of separation caused by the distance. Still today, our family is spread across two continents and three countries. So someone’s always missing someone else. One solution has been that Ron and I spend months apart, while I split my time between Europe and America. How did we make it work? We’ve always viewed our nontraditional relationship as a plus rather than a problem. We’re always each other’s first priority, Facetiming several times a day when we’re apart. We stay super supportive of each other’s needs and interests. And we don’t take each other for granted – when we’re together, there’s appreciation, and when we’re apart, there’s anticipation.
HuffPost: What’s the best thing about being part of a stepfamily?
Grace: To be honest, I thought being a single parent was one of the most challenging things I’d ever done, and then I discovered that step-parenting could be harder. So it wasn’t all easy and wonderful. The best part is that there’s been so much growth. Ron and I are far better and smarter people now than we were in our 20s and 30s. Never giving up, and continuing to search conscientiously in every situation for the best thoughts, words and actions, has truly trained us into competent, good-hearted people.
HuffPost: How do you deal with stress in your household?
Grace: I meditate daily, so that keeps me pretty peaceful. My oldest son told me once that I couldn’t even see the hill that stress lives on from where I am. It’s not true – stuff comes up for me, too. But I believe that the way I view life shapes what I’ll experience, so I deliberately hold onto a positive norm. I avoid worrying, because it doesn’t help. Criticizing and blaming are off-limits, especially concerning the other parents because if we make our exes wrong, our children will see it as a negative message about themselves. So when stuff comes up, we talk it out – we’ve always used the techniques from Systematic Training for Effective Parenting. We talk about why we do what we do, and why we want what we want, so that we can understand each other’s motivations – and we don’t make each other wrong. We look for what we can do, including thinking differently, instead of wanting people and circumstances to change for us. And we focus on what’s already working well and how to expand on that.
HuffPost: What makes you proudest of your family?
Grace: I’m most proud of how cool our kids turned out. All four of them are rich in authenticity, integrity and self-knowledge. And I’m most grateful that we’re all friends. When I’m in America, I live with my sons and their families for several months at a time, sharing the bathroom, eating meals together at the table, helping with homework and carpools, and sleeping in the beds with my grandchildren. I think it’s normal, but Ron says it’s not – that the average young family doesn’t want one of the moms moving in. Fortunately for me, my sons welcome me into their homes. And so do their wives, which is a gift beyond measure – and says a lot about the type of partners my sons drew to themselves.
HuffPost: What advice do you have for other blended families who feel like a peaceful family dynamic is out of reach?
Grace: We can’t expect our kids to practice anything that we’re not living. And the best example we can give them is a person who’s enjoying life. When our kids see us stay calm, kind, even happy when life is messy and relationships are stressed, they won’t learn to be afraid of life – and they’ll be more likely to appreciate life and other people. Most important is to never-ever send them a message that causes them to question their worth. If they can hold onto an awareness of their innate goodness and value, which says, “I’m all right because I’m alive, not because of something I’ve done or not done,” they’ll turn out just fine.