Mrs. Delaware Brings National Exposure to Blended Families
Dr. Francine Tolliver Edwards won the 2012 Mrs. Delaware United States Pageant held on May 12, and will represent Delaware at the 26th annual Mrs. United States Pageant in Las Vegas, July 12th. She also wishes to represent blended families.
Dr. Edwards lives in Delaware with her husband of seven years, Micah and four children, Jordan (son-13), Madison (son-11), Tyler (daughter-6) and Joshua (son-2). Mrs. Delaware describes her home life as a “six-ring circus:” all six of them do their own thing. In a candid interview, Francine Edwards shared some of her personal experiences, issues, and advice about dealing with the changes in family dynamics which are part and parcel with the blending of families.
Here is a woman who seems able to juggle life with many balls in the air. She began her career in the television industry in 1989 and anchored at BET for 11 years, managed public affairs for the D.C. Department of Health and later, NASA. She is now an Associate Professor at Delaware State University. Most recently, Dr. Edwards published her first romance novel, The Design of Love (written while she was completing her doctorate). In her spare time she enjoys skiing, competing in pageants, reading, writing, and most importantly, spending time with family.
Statistics show that one in three children is a product of a blended family. When kids go back and forth between two households, there’s an adjustment period. Dr. Edwards believes that giving teachers the insight to understand what those kids are going through, and giving them some tools to help those kids cope, is important. She hopes to start by working with her own children’s school administration. Her goal is for teachers and parents to be offered training courses so children may have support at home, in school and in the community.
In her own home, there is much running, chasing, joking, trying to get meals, and readying for school. Somehow it all comes together and everyone gets to where they need to be. Amazingly, out of the 3 kids that have to go to school during the regular school year, only one was late (once)—and that was on the last day of school. They were so busy playing around that they missed the bus. In the evenings it’s a bit calmer with school work and extracurricular activities. Still, they make it a point to sit down and eat dinner together every day. It takes some creative time management for Mom to get it all done.
“I have to really prioritize, which actually means taking care of me first. That includes my physical and mental health, ‘scheduling’ in fun for me, and knowing when to take a break from it all. I get most of my academic work done after everyone in my house goes to bed (I can get my best academic/scholarly work done between 12:00 a.m. – 3:00 a.m.). That’s probably my biggest secret! No one knows I’m up and I can get back in the bed around 3:30 and sleep until 7 or so and be fresh for the next day.”
Clearly, on top of it all, this Associate Professor is also quite the clever Mom.
Mr. Edwards has joint custody and residency of the oldest son, Jordan, who spends alternate weeks with each family. The 2nd oldest son, Madison, is with the Edwards permanently, which has recently raised questions with Tyler, their six-year-old daughter. She has been asking why Madison doesn’t go to see his other mom too. It took some thinking to formulate an answer that a 6-year old could understand. Dr. Edwards explained to Tyler, “Sometimes children have to be with the parent that can give them the best home and life and Daddy was the one to do that.” She stressed to her daughter that Madison’s mother loves him, but just can’t give him a home, school support, or help him with homework and basketball like Dad can.
Issues will arise between sets of parents in regard to basic rules such as curfews, chores, and bedtimes. For the stepparent, it is important to ‘stand by your man’ in the presence of others, and to voice your concerns in private. Be sure to involve the child in the decision but not the conflict. Differences will exist and face-to-face communication between the parents should be encouraged. Just don’t forget that the goal is for the betterment of the child.
“One strategy that didn’t work was having direct contact with the biological mothers! Whew, what a lesson learned here. I thought that once married I had a huge say in everything and that I had a right to voice my opinion, but it only made the tension worse. I was enlightened by my sister and aunt after sharing a story with them about a horrific argument I had with one of the mothers. They both set me straight immediately! They let me know that I shouldn’t be taking on the burden of defending my husband to them, arguing with them about menial things or answering the phone just so I can ‘talk down’ to them in my not-so-cordial greeting. My aunt, being a divorced mother, told me that she made it a point after her husband remarried, not to have any contact with his wife because she knew it would do nothing but cause stress. She said that her relationship with her children’s father and the children has always been better because of that.”
The majority of extended family has been good about trying to keep bruised feelings and egos out of the children’s lives. When there are exceptions, Dr. Edwards feels it is important to hold back the retorts, turn the other cheek, and not to respond negatively when disrespectful comments are presented. Not all grown-ups can keep personal feelings out of the way. For the children, Dr. Edwards feels we need to try our best to be adults.
“I did experience some distance when my oldest stepson turned about 10 or so because at that point he was privy to some negative things his mother had to say about me and my husband. He began to distance himself. I also took a step back because I saw behavior towards me that I didn’t like and I refused to bow down to a child. For example, he wouldn’t speak to me or even interact with me in our home. For a point, I would try to reach out to him, but then I gave up and played the game right along with him. After a while my husband did intervene, which I thought was appropriate. But like I said, I wasn’t going to suck up to him, try to carry on fake conversations or create these insincere family moments with him, because I knew he didn’t want that from me.
We see there is still a stigma attached to being a stepparent. Despite the growing number of blended families, there is something awkward in terms of the relational issues that stepparent’s face that can’t truly be understood unless you are walking in those shoes. Sometimes I can talk or explain my feelings until I’m blue in the face but my own husband still doesn’t understand how I feel. Overcoming some of the challenges, however, can be eased by keeping the lines of communication open and being as transparent as possible.”
Probably the most valuable advice Dr. Edwards wishes to impart is that you absolutely cannot be a part of a stepparent pity party! You have to be proactive and take on the task of being a stepparent as a full-blown educational process. The people who will bad-mouth the biological parents with you and feed negative thoughts to you about your own step children are nothing but energy vampires. You need to be surrounded by stepparents who have overcome obstacles and are willing to share the tools and secrets of success with you.
Mrs. Delaware is attempting to spotlight issues of blended families and step-parenting in the National forum of this month’s Mrs. United States Pageant. On behalf of stepfamilies, we wish her well.