Here’s How I’m Overcoming My Fear of Blended Families Post-Divorce
Like many other Black women, I was afraid to remarry and create a blended family after my divorce. Therapy and self-reflection have helped me heal and overcome my fears.
By Elizabeth Ayoola
“I’m never getting married again, I’m never living with a man again, and I’m never having another child” were three of my favorite ‘nevers’ post-divorce. I told everyone who would listen that I wanted a partnership without all the extra commitments of marriage, more kids, and blended families. Although 63% of women who remarry create blended families, it was a hard no for me. I’m not alone–research shows Black women have the lowest remarriage rates out of any group. My guess is that they had their own list of “nevers,” as I did.
In retrospect, that was mostly fear talking. I was afraid to start a new family because I didn’t want the challenges that accompany long-term commitments and the vulnerability that comes with love. I was also afraid to fail at it again. While I felt strongly about this when I got divorced over two years ago, my views are shifting thanks to therapy, self-reflection, and lots of healing.
Why Starting A Blended Family Was Scary
I had several reservations about starting a blended family, but three stood out the most. I didn’t want to face the challenges of blended families, I was afraid of vulnerability, and I didn’t want my son to experience the heartbreak of another broken family.
In terms of the challenges of blended families, a blended family meant potentially becoming a step-parent or someone being a step-parent to my son. That didn’t fit the picture in my head. It also felt like I’d be replacing my son’s father, which I didn’t want to do. The latter is a common fear, especially for the child, says Massiel Abramson, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Wallingford, CT.
“There are worries about the parents being replaced,” she says. “There’s concerns about how you will be accepted by the new family members, and as a child, you might worry that a new step-parent will make you lose touch with your own parent.”
It took me a long time to forgive myself for “having my son with the wrong person.” I was so scared of doing it a second time. In some ways, the fear of making that mistake again paralyzed me. I felt like the least I could do was not put my son through another breakup since he will never know what a nuclear family looks like. Abramson says my fear is rational, but it shouldn’t stop me from starting over.
“It is appropriate to be worried about parental separations and divorces,” she says. “Conflict between parents is extremely stressful in childhood, even as early as infancy. And even studies show that when babies are still in the belly, it can be very stressful if the parent is having severe relationship problems.”
I didn’t want any serious commitments post-divorce, but I did get out there and start dating again. Doing so made me realize I may still want some sort of family, but I was letting fear get in my way. I had to develop my own strategies for overcoming the fear. Here are a few ways I’ve been navigating my fears.
Explore The Fear
I had to figure out why I didn’t want a blended family. Was it because a blended family didn’t align with my values around freedom, and I thought it would restrict me? Or was I projecting based on my experience? Thanks to extensive journaling, I discovered that it’s a bit of both. As a free-spirited person, I am not keen on the idea of long-term commitments. I saw a blended family as just that. I also found that extended periods of solitude are core to my well-being, and it’s hard to have this with a partner and multiple kids at home. Any relationships I have in the future need to be able to accommodate that.
Additionally, I wanted to eliminate the possibility of having to endure the mental and emotional abuse I experienced in my marriage again. Because of that experience, I was afraid to merge my life with someone who could weaponize my vulnerability.
Grieve The Life You Expected
During my journaling process, I found an opportunity to grieve the loss of my nuclear family. “Each of us has an idea of what we believe family should look like,” says Amanda Mbata-Graham, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and owner Living Waters Counseling and Wellness Center in Raleigh, NC. This is especially true for people who got married, started a family, and then got divorced, as that experience can rob you of what you thought you knew about family, she says. This was certainly the case for me.
“That’s rough, and we should take the time to grieve. However, as our perspective begins to shift, our eyes are then opened to the reality that we now have a new opportunity to build the family we desire.”
Explore The Possibilities of Future Relationships
Journaling has helped me shift my focus from the fear of failing at a new family to exploring what an ideal family for my present situation would look like. Nowadays, I allow myself to daydream and feel positive emotions about building a blended family that aligns with my values. This looks like having separate rooms or homes, lots of freedom, and quality family time.
“I think it’s important to dream, right?” says Abramson. She advises asking yourself a series of questions when journaling. This will help you visualize what you want.
Ask Yourself These Question To Help Explore What You Want
- What would you want out of a relationship?
- What is it that you’re looking for?
- What do you think are barriers to that?
- What are some things that you are afraid would happen if you opened yourself up to a relationship?
I discovered thinking about these questions is helpful as I explore the possibilities for future relationships. Although my friends tease that this is an unconventional view of family for a Black woman, I am optimistic that someone out there shares my values.
Therapy helped me address my fears—especially those about wanting to protect my son from loss. I remember sitting in several therapy sessions crying because I felt like a failure for raising my child in a broken home. My therapist would correct me, reminding me that my home is not broken. Then she would remind me that I was raising my son in a happy and loving home despite not being a conventional family dynamic.
Seeking therapy also helped me address my childhood trauma and emotional abuse scars, causing my fears around vulnerability. Finally, therapy has taught me that it’s ok for my son to experience loss or heartbreak, and I’ll never be able to completely shield him from it. Since heartbreak is inevitable, what I can do is give him the tools he needs to heal when he does face it one day. Now that I’ve embraced this belief, I’m more open to a blended family.