Blended, re-partnering, stepfamilies, whatever you want to call it, life can be pretty complicated when you and your partner have children from previous relationships. And when you finally decide to take the plunge and move into together chances are you will have a very busy and chaotic household!
So how did we work out the parenting? Who parents who and how do we parent together?
When people re-partner and particularly when they both have children, parenting together can be the hardest part of your relationship to agree on. When you have been parenting for a while your parenting style is pretty solid and you feel confident that you have this parenting stuff pretty sorted. In parenting relationships it is good for us to disagree to a point and challenge each other – a good parent is just one willing to learn, right? But how do you manage this without taking it personally? When my husband and I first moved in together we didn’t give much thought to how we would work together as parents. We have a very similar parenting style and ideals as parents so I guess we figured it would just work.
Our first challenge as a couple in a blended family was realising that everything wouldn’t just fall into place. It is a big challenge working out how you will work together as parents when you have two sets of children bonding together. Nuclear families just work as a team and parent together – although there is generally a primary caregiver who takes the main role, but you can’t do this in a blended family because children need their bio-parent to be their primary attachment. Two sets of children means two primary caregivers working alongside each other.
Like a lot of couples that have re-partnered we had a great deal of external pressures during the early stages of our relationship with family court to setting a parenting order for my skids (step-kids) and family issues because of the conflicted loyalties. If you are dealing with external difficulties when you are in the early stages of blending your family then I highly recommend counselling. Between counselling, reading and lots of talking we managed to set our expectations with each other to make parenting together easier.
Here is a breakdown of what we have learnt about parenting together:
- Watch your words, never use attacking statements. Remember there are lots of different reasons we parent how we do and there may be an even deeper reason that even your partner doesn’t know about. One major, especially for Dads, seems to be parenting through guilt. Especially if the time with his children is limited (for whatever reason). Parenting can feel like a negative for some so help your partner realise that it is only teaching. And teaching our children is a positive thing. It is all about the delivery.
- Talk about your expectations for each other. We wrote them down separately and then shared with each other. This gives you a chance to understand what your partner needs from you in terms of parenting. Your partner might need more or less support than you realise, it can be hard to ask for support when you’re in the moment and even harder to tell your partner to butt out when you don’t need their input.
- Get on the same page. You won’t always agree but you need to in terms of the overall family rules. If age appropriate have a family meeting and let your children decide what the family rules are, you will be surprised what they come up with. Our children had more rules listed than we would have and they were all under 9yrs! They are way more likely to follow the family rules if they have been a part of making them. Pin them up on the wall and use gentle reminders to modify behaviour, yet another great way to support the stepparent relationships as well.
- If you disagree on a particular behaviour – table manners for example – then talk about it. Find out why this is important to your partner, they may have a perspective that you haven’t thought about. Use statements such as “help me understand why?”. Be open minded and remember enjoying your new life with your new family may be more important than focusing on table manners right now.
- Remember fairness doesn’t have to mean the same. It means meeting the needs of the individual. Understand this as a couple, some will put high expectations on their partner to “be Dad/Mum” because then they are treating all the children the same, not understanding that this could potentially damage the relationship with your skids. It is okay to just be your kid’s friend and be more like a teacher rather than parent. All our kids know who their primary caregiver is in our household and will always go to their bio-parent over their step-parent. Your job as a step-parent is to support your partner to parent their own children. You can have an opinion and have a say but respect that the kids need their bio-parent to be their primary caregiver. Children are not stupid, they understand that their step parents are not their parents, and if they have an ongoing relationship with their other bio-parent then it is important you support this.
- And finally but most importantly, value and appreciate your relationship. Being a step-parent and blending a family is incredibly hard, especially in the early stages of your relationship. Your partner will potentially have to walk a whole lot of hard stuff with your children, your family and possibly your ex too. They do it because they know your love and your new life together makes it worth it. It is so important to be available when your partner needs support and make time as a couple. For your blended family to work and for you both to work out the hard stuff, like parenting, then your relationship must be strong and solid. I tell my husband that he is my prize, my prize on the hard days with the kids, knowing that I get his love at the end of the day – makes it worth it, every time.