Blending Families Takes a Deft Hand
How to make it work for you
I work from home. When I’m not out seeing clients, I break for lunch away from my computer. Deciding what to watch on Netflix, I head to the family room and WHOA! There’s my boyfriend’s 6’5” son, stretched out taking up the entire couch. The TV is on, his laptop is open and an all too familiar video game noise squeaks from his cell phone. My break room occupied, I take a tray back to my office, muttering under my breath.
It wasn’t always like this. Years before, a few of MY kids were living with us. They drove my boyfriend crazy with their messy rooms, closed doors and odd schedules. The cleanliness requirements for my children post-divorce couldn’t have been any lower. I didn’t want to burden them with such trivia after our family broke up, but new partner wasn’t having it. “Your boys need better aim,” he’d complain as he Clorox wiped their bathroom floor. When he marveled that my kids were always holed up in their rooms, I realized how different our family’s style was from his family’s. I didn’t recognize how hard it was to live with another person’s children. Now I see how graciously he actually handled it.
The first lesson in any “blended” family is you must tread lightly when opining on your partner’s children. It’s always easier to see parenting missteps when others make them. “If that were my son,” you think, “I’d say this” or “I’d do that.” But it’s not your son and except for a subtle suggestion, your opinion isn’t wanted. You risk a major argument you can’t win, because it’s NOT YOUR CHILD. (This differs if your ex is completely uninvolved and you jointly decide to parent each other’s children. True “co-parenting” will typically work best with younger kids, and your partner ultimately acts in lieu of the other parent.)
Bringing two families together challenges our resourcefulness and our patience. Just because you love someone doesn’t mean your parenting styles will mesh. As you contemplate combining your partner’s kids with your own, a few qualities will make the transition easier.
Stability- Children crave stability. Before inserting your partner into their home life, be sure your relationship is stable and long term.
Consistency- Agree upon some basic house rules. (No food in the bedrooms, etc.) Stick to them and apply them evenly across the board.
Flexibility- The ability to go with the flow will save everyone’s sanity. Discuss your top parenting issues and decide which behaviors you can let slide and which are non-negotiable. You’ll probably find that very few rules need to be hard fast.
Respecting boundaries - Kids may sometimes want their parent all to themselves without you around. They may want to confide solely in their Mom or Dad instead of you. It’s not personal, it’s natural. Your kids probably feel the same way, so honor parent relationships. Give them space to nurture their unique bond.
Humor- Diffusing thorny co-habitation issues with humor greases the wheels for a harmonious home. Keep it light when possible-it’s a great skill to teach your children in the process.
By the way, now his son has a girlfriend. Make that two bodies on the couch!