Blending in

Published 10:06 pm Tuesday, July 5, 2011

There have been many new memories, including a European trip (above), for the Schools family since Todd and Willie Schools divorced previous partners and married each other. Children from the previous marriages — Zoe, Alaina and Garrett — choose to spend time together now, along with the family’s newest addition, Ava.

By Hattie Francis

Divorce, remarriage drive trend in families

You might still be able to catch them on Nickelodeon, but it gets harder every year to find June and Ward Cleaver and their two sons in the homes of America.

The days of the “Father Knows Best” nuclear family are but a fading memory for many people around the area. For others, not even the memory remains.

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The new American family is the blended one, reflecting a rise in the rates of divorce and remarriage.

Every day, between 1,300 and 2,100 blended families are created in America, according to estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau and national family ministries. More than half of Americans today have been, are now or will eventually be in one or more step-family situations during their lives.

As Baby Boomers watch their grown children and young grandchildren become part of these new families, it can be comforting to know just how well they can work out for those involved.

Wilita “Willie” and Todd Schools of Capron, Va., began dating in 2000. He was the father of Zoe, now 14, and Alaina, now 12. She was the mother of Garrett, now 15. Married in 2004, they now share a child of their own, Ava.

There was almost a sense of inevitability to their relationship. Both were divorced from previous partners in 2000. And then they found themselves bumping into each other all over the place.

“We had the same circle of friends,” Todd said. “We’d see each other in the gym. We’d see each other just in group activities. We were already friends, so it wasn’t like we were going on a blind date, or just getting to know somebody new.”

The transition was relatively simple, Todd said.

“In 2000, Garrett would have been five, Zoe about four, and Alaina one. Of course, the younger they are the easier it is to accept change, and the blending process was pretty smooth actually.”

“I come from a very tight knit Filipino family so all three of our children have been exposed to the Filipino culture and customs,” Willie said. “When we told Garrett, Zoe and Alaina that we were getting married, all three were very excited, and Zoe made the comment that after we got married that would make her half Filipino. That, to me, was very endearing and sweet.”

For the children, it’s almost as if they have always been a family.

“They grew up as a family, and probably would see each other like brother and sister almost as much as if they were biologically brother and sister,” Todd said.

“Now we have a fourth child. I mean, it kind of ties everybody together,” Todd said of Ava.

Willie and Todd said their family is really not that different from others.

They spend a lot of time together, and are very close to each other.

“The girls are here half the time,” Todd said. “Garrett is here half the time. They chose to make sure they are all here at the same time. We’ve been very active, and have done quite a bit of traveling together. We have done a lot of sports. I’ve coached all three of them, and Willie’s coached the kids.”

At one point, the entire family of five spent a month in Europe while Todd was there for work. The families rented a house in Belgium and traveled during their time there.

“That was really neat, and we’ve done a lot of things like that,” Todd said.

The families — even the divorced partners — remain close.

“If you were to ask people that are close to us what is unusual about our family, it would be that we get along very, very well with Clete, and his family,” Todd said. “We get along well with Tara, and her family. There is not a lot of animosity or the kids don’t see a lot of adults that are fighting or don’t agree on how to raise them.”

According to Willie, that has helped turn an average blended family into a happily blended, extended one, one that even Ward and June Cleaver would be proud to call their own.