As a single mum, one thing I’m really interested in is how blended families make it work.
Any relationship I enter into will be one that involves 5+ people (me + my 3 kids + him + his ? kids). The idea is a daunting prospect. It can be hard enough to juggle the competing needs and personalities of my own three kids, let alone those of another adult and kids that have been raised in a potentially different environment.
After all, even the Brady Bunch had their issues – and they had maid to help out!
With a staggering 60% of second marriages failing, it really makes you wonder how couples that successfully blend their families manage to do so.
Experts say there are some key elements to making it work and we spoke to some real mums who are inclined to agree with them.
As with any relationship, communicating effectively is paramount to making this situation work. Being open with feelings, listening to each other and dealing with any inevitable conflict in a constructive, solution focussed way is imperative.
Try to remember everyone has a different perspective and will deal with issues differently. Displaying empathy, understanding and compassion are all fundamental to the communication process. This will not only help you function as a family but also make you stronger as a couple.
Stepmum to two, Kendall says having the understanding of her husband makes the challenging times more bearable.
“One of the greatest gifts he gives me as a stepmother is allowing me to moan about how loathsome they (the kids) can be sometimes. He doesn’t get offended or try and stop me or try to defend them. He just listens to me and commiserates. And because he allows me that space, I don’t feel the need to moan very much, or for very long. I get it off my chest and we move on. I really love him for that.”
Agreeing on a set of house rules is a good way of making sure everyone is on the same page. It’s important to be aware of loyalty conflicts. Even though it will be natural for each of you to favour your own child, it is important to show a united front. Chances are you may have different parenting styles too, which will require plenty of that aforementioned communication to navigate.
“My partner and I are still working though the lumps and bumps. He is a stricter parent than I,” says Lou.
Mum of two, Jo stresses it’s important to start out how you intend to continue. “We sat down with the kids and I made it clear that I would never put them before him and never put him before them. That I loved them all. We discussed that we are now a family, and as such he would treat them as a father would his children and that we would be parenting together. Yes we had a few tough times but always maintained we are a family and we all love each other.”
Create your own unique family unit
While we are talking about important things to consider, there really is no magic formula for creating a harmonious blended family. With so many personalities, emotions and backstories in play, your blended family will be unique. Embrace that and do what works for you as a family unit.
Nicole talks about how little things can help foster the feeling of family and inclusion. “One thing – which seems really small but it means a lot – is that the kids never use the words “half” or “step”. They all refer to each other as their brother/sister.”
However, this approach doesn’t necessarily suit all families. Take for example, Nichole H’s situation: “My children refer to them as their half brother and sister. It makes them feel uncomfortable and upset when they are made to call them their brother and sister when they are all together.”
Taking the lead from what your kids are comfortable with is a good start. Try shared experiences together as a way to bond as family. But remember these things take time so don’t force it and keep your expectations realistic.
Maintaining civil relationship with the other parent is well recognised as the best approach for the well being of children from split homes. Don’t involve children in grown up issues and always refer to the other parent with respect.
While this can be hard at times, our mum agree:
“A bad word is never spoken about my (3 oldest) children’s father, only positive words. I remember, as a child of divorce myself, how it caused physical pain every time something bad was said about my dad,” says Mandy.
“It’s also important to include their other parent (and their other life) in casual conversation “how’s mum?” Or “what’s mum up to these school holidays?” Or “how’s the garden at mum’s place after the storm?” Or whatever. So that their other life feels acknowledged and valuable,” says Kendall.