We’ve been talking a lot about the challenges with blended families this week. More to the point we’ve been talking a lot about how we don’t talk as much as we should about blended families. There is just not the support out there for families that there should be. It’s funny how things align and it’s been not only our friends that have been talking about it this weekend, but we’ve also heard from some of you who follow us on Getting Lost too. So we thought it’s time we started a conversation about some of the things that are tough when raising a blended family.
One of the toughest thing we have found parenting across a blended family is managing what we are calling the “your kid/my kid divide”.
As parents we are genetically hardwired to put our own children first. From the moment they were placed in our arms we turned all lion/lioness and would do anything in our power to keep them safe. We have a soft spot (or is it a blind spot) when it comes to their behaviour. Maybe it’s because we learned where those motivations came from in the wee small hours of the morning as we fed them, maybe it’s because we love them so much that we always give them the benefit of the doubt.
Now all of this is fine when there are only your own children in the house but when you are living with yours and my kids the lines get a little blurred.
It’s hard not to take sides. To pit yourself and your children on one side then your partner and their children on the other side. None of us intend to do it but invariably it does happen and once you find yourself in this position it’s so hard to get out of it (trust us, we’ve been there a few times now).
We are incredibly lucky to have our 3 girls 5 out of 7 days a week so we don’t have an option when it comes to getting stuck in and making a home for all 5 of us that we are all happy to live in.
So what do we do when we start thinking of our family as your kids and my kids instead of our kids? We don’t have the all the answers but here’s a few of the things we have discovered to help us move past it and get to a better place….
- Remember that they are our kids – biologically or not, when you make a decision to parent together that’s what they are.
- If you didn’t see it happen you can’t take sides. This is one we try to always stick to. Kids lie, sometimes they just see things in a different way. Either way, taking sides just won’t end well unless you have seen it with your own eyes. Always listen but know that you are not always the judge and jury. Kids will sort out their differences far quicker than your relationship will recover. We find our 3 make up within 10 minutes or so and are becoming really good friends.
- Discipline everyone equally. It’s hard when you come together with different expectations and different ways of disciplining but nothing makes life feel unfair for kids (and their grown ups) than being treated differently to others in the family
- Protect the vulnerable relationship. We all know as parents that we sometimes lose it with our kids. It’s awful but we all recover – we have years of love and understanding behind us, as well as knowing that a fight doesn’t mean that parent will love you any less or will leave you. It’s different with step children. They are still learning and they have been hurt before with their parents breaking up. The best advice we got was from a family councillor who told us that where you can try to leave the discipline (especially in the early stages) to the biological parent and focus on building that love and trust first.
- On to the professional advice – our other favourite piece of advice was KFC. Not the fried variety but Kind, Firm and Calm as a way to respond to any situation.
- Remove yourself from the situation. There is nothing like a child to make us act like a child ourself and both James and I have struggled with this over the 2 years we have lived together with our 3 girls. And it seems like such silly things. My eldest used to drive James mad with chewing with her mouth full in front of him and his daughter used to drive me mad pulling faces at me at the table. Both really normal things for kids to do but it was having a huge amount of pull over us and we just couldn’t get out of it. So we changed where we sat at the dinner table! I sit across from mine, he sits across from hers and peace was restored at the table just by remembering that we are the grown ups and not expecting them to at like grown ups when they are infact only 8, 9 and 11 years old.
- Tell your partner as soon as you find yourself struggling. Like a roller coaster this will happen often as you navigate the first years of parenting together but without their support it’s an uphill battle. Don’t mince words. “I’m not coping. I’m struggling. I don’t know what to do” They are all things we have said at various times. Most of the time you won’t be able to help but simply knowing that the other is there and on the look out for when you need extra help can do the trick.
- Talk. Our eldest and James were clashing a lot recently. So we sat down with the two of them and me as a mediator and talked. She talked about what was making her upset. He talked about what was making her upset. Then they both decided on one thing they could try to do this week. And it worked. Like any relationship it will have it’s ups and downs but its only by talking that we can try to make our way through.
- Talk to someone outside the situation. Venting is great and it always helps to see a different perspective. Our support network is wide. We talk to friends, family, work mates, family councillors and of course all of you.
- Have fun together. This is probably the most important thing of all. You’re building a new family unit. New traditions, new ways of doing things. Fun is massively important here.
Our kids are big fans of Getting Lost. They often read the blog (hi kids!) and will proudly tell complete strangers that we write a blog. Anything that is about them we check with them first and show them (and get their okay) for any pictures we use. So undoubtedly they will read this, and probably show their friends too.
So we thought if we are talking about the challenges with my kids and your kids we should ask them too. So this is their advice from a kids perspective on how to deal with your parent, my parent….
From our eldest (11):
- Buy yourself a punching bag (we actually did do this for all of them)
- Make each other laugh when you are down
From our “middlest” (9)
- Fake it till you make it (funnily enough this is from my step daughter and is exactly what I wrote in this blog post – we often think the same)
- Get hugs when you need them
- Have a good person in your extended family that you can talk to
From our youngest (8)
- Walk away from arguments and have time out
- Don’t call each other names
So there you have it. Our perspective 2 years in to living together as a blended family. The thing I loved most about writing this post was pulling the photos together and looking at how much these 3 genuinely love each other and how I don’t reckon you can tell who is blood related and who’s not.
We’re not perfect, we don’t get it right all the time and we definitely don’t have all the answers but hopefully by talking more about the challenges that are unique to blended families we will all feel a little less alone and have a better shot at making it all work out this time around.