Last year, my ex-fiance and father of my children passed away after a battle with cancer. Unfortunately, they were not the only children he left behind. They also have an older 15-year-old half-brother. Like many blended families, accepting another parent’s children cannot be taken lightly. Differing personalities and parenting approaches and respecting all parties can be a beast.

For example, my initial relationship with their half-brother’s mother was convoluted. Many things clouded our ability to be civil. One time, she and I got into it so bad, I ended up calling my sister in case fist, feet and shoes were hurled and I found myself needing bail money.

I now laugh at our outlandish behavior and even took her son on vacation with us last summer.

With their dad’s death, there was nothing I could do to rebuild that fatherly bond. But I could help the kids mend the bond they had with each other. Living with different parents means they don’t get to see each other much. But fortunately, getting his mother to agree to a vacation wasn’t hard considering we both moved on from the “bitter baby momma” phase years ago.

From the first day of vacation to checkout, I learned many things on my blended family vacation. The feelings of the children wanting to be together and my ability to embrace my extended family more intimately were revelations that will always stick with me.

The kids want to be in each others’ lives, even if they don’t say so

When my daughters saw their brother, they jumped all over him like it was Christmas in July. Great Wolf Lodge in Williamsburg, Va., has a huge, 80,000-square-foot indoor water park, and they made sure to conquer each corner of it. There was pillow fighting with each other during bedtime, body slamming on the fluffy beds and staying up far too late. I was convinced they wanted to be in each others’ lives, and their actions were evidence of it.

Communicating with the ex could spark an unlikely but strong bond

After the years of contention with my ex’s onetime partner, I realized I wanted to be in her corner. We have more in common now than ever: We’re both officially single mothers and our children are related. Why would I allow the past to dictate my future with this woman who is the mother of my children’s brother? I have to go through her to do anything with her son and to keep him involved with his younger sisters. It only makes sense to be cordial with her for the sake of our blended family.

The children don’t care about the petty past … unless you do

If kids are constantly hearing negative things about or between their parents, they may start to believe it, or behave in a similarly negative way. I’ll admit, I wasn’t always disciplined at keeping my raw opinions about their father to myself. And I knew the only way this vacation would be a success is if I kept the discussions focused on the children. For example, I asked my daughter’s brother about how school was going, his thoughts on college and looking for a summer job. It kind of warmed my heart when he trusted me enough to ask questions about the military, which is my career background. Outside of that, their only focus was fun, swimming and simply enjoying each other. The beauty of seeing these half siblings happy together is that they didn’t know of or didn’t care about the trash talk that occurred between their parents years ago. It was a beautiful time.

The adults will put the past to rest if you do

Inviting my ex’s son to vacation with us was my way of saying I’m serious about doing right by these children. And his mother gleefully obliged. Looking back on my rocky beginnings with his mother and my ex was a picture of disrespect, inconsideration and selfishness from all the adults involved in this blended family, including myself. Making their son a priority on this vacation to be with his sisters was my way of putting the kids first, not the adults, and putting the past to bed.

Vacation forces everyone to respect one another

Being cooped up in a hotel room with two elementary school kids and a coy teenager forces you to respect everyone’s needs. My two entertain each other just fine, but I made sure their brother got his teenage “man” time. He ended up finding new, age-appropriate friends to hang out with without interfering on sibling time with his little sisters. He still took them to the arcade and other places at the resort and even won a stuffed animal prize for my daughter.

The children will forever cherish this unique experience

My whole purpose for the vacation was to do my part in ensuring my daughters and their brother stay close. I wanted this vacation to be one of many. I want to see them open Christmas gifts together and attend each other’s basketball games and soccer matches. It’s also an experience I take as confirmation that dynamic family outings can be a positive thing. Having different parents or a messy past shouldn’t keep a blended family from sharing the same beautiful experiences together.

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