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Our blended family - what we learnt in our first year

Our blended family - what we learnt in our first year

This week it is our one year anniversary of being a fully fledged blended family. This time one year ago we packed James daughter (who was 7 at the time) and her cat Monkey into my tiny little Mazda 2, squeezed in beside my 6 and 8 year old daughters and drove up to her new home in Auckland. The highlights of that trip for me were stopping at the Pink Pig to say one last goodbye to her Mum and taking the cat through the drive through on the way home.

At the time I was so excited to be living with my best friend and not having to commute from Auckland down to the Hauraki Plains each weekend that I was still living in an ‘everything will be perfect’ bubble.

When I look back a year ago I shudder at the naivety that we went into the whole thing with. We did family counselling first – they told us it was going to be tough. We read blogs – they told us it was going to be tough. We read books – they told us it was going to be tough. We talked to friends and family – they politely declined to comment… but we knew they thought it was going to be tough!

We didn’t believe any of them. “That’s other people” we said. “You don’t understand, we’re different” we said. Oh and we threw in that we have known each other since we were 12 – surely that means something.

Turns out it doesn’t and that they were all right. It has been tough, damn tough. So tough sometimes that you wonder if it is ever going to work out OK. But then there are times, times that I see that little glimmer of where our family is heading. Strands of hope standing out like a shining light of how far we have come in the past year and I know that although it is tough – we can do this and we will be a stronger family for it.

So tonight we went out to celebrate one year as a blended family. We went back to the first place that we got lost as a family (you can read about that adventure here) and it was going kind of OK. Sure my eldest tried to strangle my youngest discreetly while they were having their photo taken but overall they were fairly OK.

As they all rolled off to the toilet James and I were congratulating ourselves on how far we had come. Of course you should never do this and 5 minutes later world war 3 erupted with all 3 girls standing in front of me screaming at each other at the top of their lungs.

I don’t really remember what I said, not a lot I don’t think – I’ve learned that these things resolve themselves a lot quicker if you don’t interfere – but I do remember what happened next…

The girls, now calmed down, had gone outside with James while I was paying the bill when a man came up to me and said out of the blue that he admired how I had dealt with that. I was blown away. I’ve never been that parent before – could it be that somehow amongst the chaos I was actually getting a slim grip on this all. I left the restaurant floating on a cloud and of course shared this new found belief with the children and James that I was somewhat of an exemplar of modern parenthood. They seemed less than convinced but for me it was progress.

So what else is progress? For those of you reading this blog post who are at the start of your blending journey I would like to say we are there already – we’re not, it’s a long road (which those of you further down your journey are probably laughing about as you read this). So here’s what has happened for us in a year….

Monkey (the step cat)

From being an outside cat living on mice in the country to an inside cat who somehow now can only eat prescription cat food, Monkey is something between the Fresh Prince of Bel Air and Garfield. He put on loads of weight (I’m with you there Monkey) to the point that he actually had to go on a vet mandated diet and has officially kicked out the original cat of the home MJ. To say Monkey has coped with blending well is an understatement – he’s the poster child for it.

MJ (the resident cat)

If Monkey is the poster child, MJ is the story we don’t talk about. As the 8 year old resident cat MJ didn’t cope well with 2 year old Monkey’s arrival and is now an outside cat. With a bit of patience and talking to the vet we have worked out a plan which means both cats eat their own food (feeding them in seperate locations) and MJ is gradually becoming used to having another cat around.

The eldest child

From crying when she had to visit her Dad in the weekend to genuinely looking forward to spending time with him my eldest daughter is changing too. She went from complete excitement of a new sister and James moving in to complete meltdown within weeks but gradually she is coming to terms with it. She feels left out a bit because the other two are so close but I’m so proud of the young woman she is becoming – being more brave and responsible than I think she would have been without James around.

From only to middle child

James daughter went from being an only child to a middle child overnight and moved away from all of her family. It’s a pretty tough transition and she went through a lot of heartache. If being a step Mum is hard then being a step child has to be just as hard. There are no rules, no guidelines and you are so conscious of mucking it all up. Every night I tuck her in and I say just like I say to my girls, “I love you” and so far she has never said it back, but on my birthday I did get a card that said “To Cat, You’re the best step Mum ever. I love you”. It meant everything.

The youngest child

The mellowest and most adaptable she absolutely loves having a new sister and her and James daughter will often pretend to be twins and dress the same (much to my eldest’s disgust). I have to admit they do look pretty similar for not being related. I like to pretend that she has sailed on through all the tough changes because she was only 5 when James and I met but even I can’t be that naive to think we have been that lucky.

Me

I’m still finding my feet. I keep pausing while writing this blog. So tempted to stop after writing after the point where the man in the restaurant says I’m doing a great job but one of the main reasons for starting this blog was to inspire others along their blended family path too so in being honest I hope I am doing that for someone out there. I still think I’m lucky to be living with my best friend everyday and I’m thankful for the many, awesome ways in which our family has grown. Most of all I look forward to where this journey will take us and to our ultimate goal of having 3 well adjusted, happy, confident girls who can take on the world.

James

I asked him and this is what he said… He finds it frustrating but he thinks that everyone seems to bounce back faster when things go wrong. He says it’s like we belong together – even if we aren’t getting on or don’t want to be in that moment.

So that’s were we are one year in. If I were to graph it (which to be honest seems to help me with things like this) it would look a little like this…

The numbers don’t mean anything – it’s just a series of ups and downs but the downs are becoming less…

I’m sorry I don’t have better news to report for all of you blending at the one year mark but keep checking in on us because already I know that things are so much better than they were a couple of months in so I’m sure we will get there in the end.

In the mean time the few things we have learned are…

  • Book in to see a councillor (if you can make it to Auckland – the Parenting Place is awesome).
  • Take time for yourselves without the kids (fortunately we have one night a fortnight with just us)
  • Try to have fun together
  • Make family rules together and try to stick to them if you can

But hey, we’re just newbies at this game so if any of have tips send them our way….

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