The tabloids and the public can’t get enough of the photos of Bruce Willis quarantining with Demi Moore and their adult daughters. Clad in matching striped pajamas we see them smiling and having dance parties. What could be better? These images send a strong message. This family has healed from the divorce, so much so that they can spend time together and be a new kind of family. The parents may have new relationships…Bruce Willis even has two young daughters…but he is still an integrated part of his first family, not just father to the kids. This conjures up fantasies of repair, healing, and an overall positive outcome; it will all be okay.
But is that actually the case? And what about his current wife and young daughters? How do they feel about his leaving them during the crisis? This pretty picture doesn’t show us the long road that came before, the pain and disappointment that accompanies any break up, the jealousy and confusion that happen when a parent has a new family, and the loyalty binds with which children of divorce and adults with two sets of kids find themselves struggling. The pictures don’t show us Bruce Willis’ current wife smiling while she is quarantined without the father of her very young daughters because it’s hard to imagine that she feels good about this arrangement.
These are especially complex times for blended families with no easy answers.
One the one hand, Bruce and Demi seemed to have accomplished what many divorced couples can only dream of – instead of their shared history dissolving into animosity and resentment they appear to be friends, comfortable together, still enjoying a closeness and of course a shared love of their children. However, what message is this sending to Bruce’s current wife and young daughters and what does it say about dual loyalty and priorities? Who is the priority and who gets to weigh in on the decisions?
In my own practice, one couple who have an infant and toddler as well as a 7-year-old from the father’s first marriage, spoke to me about how the pandemic has made the prior parenting arrangement untenable. The 7-year-old is normally with them fifty percent of the time, an arrangement that overall, has worked well for all. This couple decided to temporarily relocate for safety reasons and the 7- year-old can no longer go back and forth the way he always has. There are now long drives for drop offs and pick-ups, extended separations from one parent or the other, and a higher risk of exposure to Covid-19. Returning to school in the fall is uncertain, causing all of the adults to consider relocating indefinitely until life returns to normal. Juggling the needs of the 7-year-old and this man’s ex-wife (who they report does not consider their needs), and his present wife and their two young children has over the years been tricky and complex but now feels almost insurmountable. Whichever way he turns this father feels he is sacrificing someone’s best interest and neglecting someone’s needs. His own preferences have become so muddled he is sinking into a depression.
The need to socially isolate has rendered thoughtfully structured parenting arrangements no longer viable. Many people have relocated indefinitely, leaving some children behind or shuttling them back and forth for extended periods. Couples are feeling the strain and the divorced partner is second guessing right and wrong, wanting to meet everyone’s needs when it just isn’t possible. For this father some difficult compromises will have to be made. He may have to rock the boat and be more assertive with his ex-wife in order to meet the needs of his wife and other children. There is a saving grace, his strong bond with his 7-year-old and that child’s strong connection to his blended family. Those relationships can’t be created overnight but will sustain them through this crisis even if they don’t have as much time together.
Communication is always critical for blended families. Add a global pandemic and it takes on new meaning. In order to navigate the demands of two sets of kids, masterful levels of cooperation and communication are needed. If ever there was a time to put aside the pettiness, competition, and score keeping, it is now.
Of-course it’s impossible to know what the real story is with Bruce and Demi but from the outside it does appear that Bruce Willis is prioritizing his first family, especially given the age difference between his two sets of kids. It’s hard to imagine a justification for Bruce Willis spending time with Demi Moore and their adult children instead of his wife and toddlers. As the saying goes, actions speak louder than words.
If you are facing difficult choices concerning the issues of blended families during the pandemic, you might consider the following:
- Some choices are made out of fear of alienating an ex-spouse who has power to interfere with parenting time and bad mouth the ex to the children, however it’s not advisable to make decisions this way especially if one set of kids are already adults.
- Consider your relationship with all of your kids — how strong and consistent it has been until this point. Also consider their ages, developmental stages, and any special circumstances and challenges in their lives – one size does not fit all when it comes to parenting. If your kids know you are really paying attention to who they are and are taking that into consideration when making choices, they are less likely to view things from a lens of favoritism or feel neglected.
- The critical factor in any of these situations is the ongoing, established parent-child relationship. Parents who have been consistent and reliable about spending time with their kids, who haven’t put them in the middle of adult conflicts, who have not made them responsible for their happiness or asked them to put their own needs aside to accommodate their complicated adult life, are in a much better position to make scheduling adjustments without doing emotional damage to their kids.
- Parents who have been physically and emotionally present despite having a second family stand on much firmer ground.
We don’t really know why Bruce is quarantining with Demi but this news does highlight issues and dilemmas being faced by many families. Having two sets of kids is never simple. At times the needs of the parents and those of the kids may be in direct conflict. Perhaps Bruce feels like this is a rare opportunity to spend concentrated time with his older daughters, perhaps it’s just more fun being with the grown-up kids than being stuck at home with toddlers. That said, the needs of the kids should outweigh the needs of the parents. Developmentally speaking, younger children need their parents’ physical presence on a more consistent basis than teens or 20 somethings.
In order for children from blended families to have self-esteem and be emotionally secure, they need to have strong parent/child relationships regardless of whether or not there are half- siblings or step-parents. Parents have to put their own preferences aside. This is often challenging and complicated and that is especially true now. Choices made during the pandemic have the potential to influence relationships for years to come and should be considered carefully.
This blog was first published on Divorceify.