In 2002, I found myself struggling with bipolar disorder, anxiety, and the pressure of raising my children between two homes. I was “happily” divorced, but still fighting small battles with my ex-husband and his new wife. While we shared joint custody, they had primary physical custody of our children. I tried to remain positive and grateful for the extra help from my ex’s wife, but there was still tension between the two households. Even though I initiated the divorce from my ex and was now single, I couldn’t decide if his new marriage made me jealous, angry, overwhelmed, or feeling left out. I tried to stay prayerful and asked God for direction on how to be a good mother to my children and a helpful parenting partner to my ex and his new wife.
In 2003, my local TV station aired the new sitcom created by Will and Jada Smith, “All of Us”. It highlighted the blended family dynamics between young black parents and was supposedly loosely patterned after their experiences as a blended family. Immediately, my family and friends started commenting that my life was playing out on the big screen! I watched the first few episodes and started to find some peace of mind. I easily connected to Lisa Rae’s character who struggled to be a good mother while searching for security within herself as a single woman. My ex-husband and his new wife were similar to Robert and Tia – determined to put our children first and their needs second. I became an avid fan of the show and used it as a positive guide to interact with my ex and his wife, and affirm myself as a beautiful woman who was also a great single parent.
“All of Us” helped me put aside my jealousy, hurt feelings, and animosity. I gained a greater appreciation for my ex-husband (who became a wonderful father), but more importantly, for his new wife. She was a stay-at-home mother who dedicated herself to making a clean, stable, loving, activity-filled home for our children. Her dedication to my family helped alleviate some of my stress as a single parent. She became such an instrumental part of my life that I realized that when my children got a step-mother, I got a step-wife! As I recovered from my anxiety and depression, I began to speak to other blended families about how a new partner (boyfriend/girlfriend or husband/wife) can be a blessing to a family. I started to encourage my family, friends, co-workers, and others who found themselves in similar blended family situations. I urged them to heal their pain, work to develop trust in their relationships, and learn to appreciate new partners and spouses.
With the recent release of Steve Harvey’s book and movie, “Act Like a Man, Think Like a Lady”, I knew it was time for me to find a platform to reach larger audiences. Steve started to promote healthy relationships between men and women while continuing to successfully blend his family. He opened the door for me to not only bring awareness to relationship struggles, but to highlight co-parenting responsibilities and the trust and support needed as our families are affected by changing parental relationships.
As a newly certified Family Life Educator (CFLE-P), I promote the need for Family Life Education via strong communication and decision-making skills, healthy interpersonal relationships, and increased emotional health. I am also the Founder and Executive Director of Our Blended Families, Inc. (OBF), a nonprofit organization that provides Family Life Education and resources to help blended families work together to raise and nurture emotionally healthy children. My faith, Will and Jada Smith, and Steve Harvey all played a part in creating the foundation for OBF. They each allowed me (and the world) to see how hard they worked to make loving homes for their children. Each had the courage to produce shows and speak publicly about the hardships and difficulties involved in blending a family. Because of Steve, and Will and Jada’s excellent example of how a blended family should work, I encourage parents to put aside their differences and focus on their child/children’s best interest. The motto for OBF, “It Starts With You,” is intended to teach parents of blended families that they can create working collaborative partnerships and contribute to healthy family functioning.