Divorce can shatter a child’s life. Done poorly by either one or both parents, it can set a child up for a lifetime of self-doubt, self-censorship, poor partner choices, and a plethora of other challenges. I should know — 30 years later my siblings and I are all still managing the lingering effects of my parents’ divorce (which was basically the textbook definition of what not to do when you end your marriage).
This is why my inner child’s heart skipped a beat when I learned about the new book, Blend: The Secret to Co-Parenting and Creating a Balanced Family by Mashonda Tifrere. I immediately thought about all the little lives that could potentially avoid the same heartache and drama that shredded our family. I imagined thousands of children not having to go through what we did.
I cruised through this book within a couple of days. It’s an easy read with blank pages for the reader’s reflections at the end of each chapter (which I found helpful to sort through all of the emotions that were bubbling up). Tifrere translates an incredibly challenging topic with a rare and graceful vulnerability. The book tells a chronological story of the birth of her child, Kaseem Jr., the divorce from her husband, the subsequent emotional fallout, her road to recovery, self-healing, and ultimately, the blending of a family. Her path was not without its challenges.
Divorces are messy and emotional and, when children are involved, exponentially more complicated. Tifrere guides us through her process of healing, which, even if you don’t have kids is incredibly insightful and wise.
Most of us lug around tons of emotional baggage from years of life without knowing how to properly shed it and move on. Through her words we see how she found the path to diminishing her ego, reprogramming her mind to positivity, and ultimately creating a private love affair with herself. (I think we all desperately want at least that last one!)
She then guides us into the process of how she approached her co-parents to build a balanced family that would benefit their son’s well being. Ultimately, if there’s negativity between parents, kids are going to feel and internalize it. Tifrere recognizes this in her family and seeks to rectify it with hours of discussions, openness, humility, and patience. Oh, and empathy… lots of empathy.
Empathy takes a key role in Chapter 7 when she discusses bridging the gap with Kaseem Jr.’s bonus mom. A healthy relationship between a parent and their ex’s new partner needs special attention and care. Tifrere leads us through this tricky landscape with the ease of someone who knows its pitfalls. Recognizing the other’s humanity is essential for this relationship to flourish. (Trust, olive branches, and wine seem to also help.)
She ends the book with a reflection of where the family is today and recognition of the work that everyone has put into its success; it truly is a team effort — a team that is constantly evolving and changing, one that needs constant care and attention.
Relationships are not static, especially relationships as dynamic as those of a blended family. So it’s truly important that everyone is aware of their own needs, speaks their truth to one another, and comes to the table in a space of love, vulnerability, and compassion. Blended or not, ego has no place in a successful family.
These personal chapters of growth and evolution take time. This sort of familial transformation after divorce will not happen overnight. But, the book shows that this transformation actually is possible for millions of people going through the challenges of divorce. It shows that a new path is feasible, one that is already being forged by families right now.
For me, as a survivor of divorce, I found in Blend tremendous inspiration for personal growth towards a deeper understanding of self-love and the amazing knock-on effects of that love. It also helped renew my desire to be present in my relationships and consciously work towards making them stronger and healthier. Ultimately, it supported me to see the ego I carry in my relationships and everyday interactions. When that ego is recognized, it can be more easily dismantled, and when that diminishes, so does stress, drama, and miscommunication.
I’m very ready for all of those things to vanish from my life — and maybe, for the first time, it feels possible for this shift to take place and to take hold.
Ann Lewis is an artist, activist, and writer based in Detroit. Her artwork reflects on social and environmental justice issues.