After movies or TV shows like Yours, Mine and Ours or The Brady Bunch – the realities of a blended family can be more wonderful, or complicated, than fiction.
The challenge of settling down with a new partner doesn’t stop at finding the right person. How can a solo parent who’s getting into a new relationship build a harmonious home with her and her ex-partner’s children?
An unusual equation
Diana and Karl were both married to their respective ex-spouses for around three years. They met in 2004 but got together in late 2006. Their setup wasn’t always harmonious due to past baggage. “It took a couple more years until we fully committed and accepted how much we loved and cared for each other, and were really serious about making it work,” Diana muses. The couple has since been living together, along with Diana’s children – a daughter of 14, and twin boys aged eight – since 2010. Karl’s 21-year-old son lives semi-independently with his grandfather.
Karl treats Diana’s kids as if they were his own, while Karl’s son and Diana are more on the “friend” level. That’s okay with Diana since they discuss things that the older boy and his dad don’t get to talk about. Diana considers herself lucky that Karl has accepted and faced his role as the kids’ father figure head-on, even when the twins see their biological father every other week. Diana laughingly adds, “Sometimes I think they have more fun together when I’m not around!”
Kevin and Mara, both in their 20’s, started dating around two years ago as co-workers. As the couple got to know more and more about each other, they felt themselves slowly connecting with each other more as single parents – she with a four-year old daughter, he with a three-year-old son. “We talked and shared and started caring for each other, and before we knew it, we were in love. It was better than we ever imagined,” gushes Kevin.
Love will keep us together
“One glaring problem I’ve had to deal with is Karl’s resistance to creating a relationship with my ex-husband,” laments Diana. “Not that I’m forcing him to. It’s just that everything would be easier if everyone got along together, right? But you can’t have everything, so I just make it a point not to have them deal with each other directly.” Diana and Karl have resolved to avoid all interaction between the latter and Diana’s ex-spouse.
Kevin and Mara talked about their parenting styles before meeting each other’s kids for the first time. They discussed how each of them saw their kids growing up. That way, they’ve been able to set each other’s expectations. Kevin explains, “We tell each other ‘Tell me if you think I’m crossing the line when I discipline the children, okay?,’ and vice-versa. We try to complement each other’s way of guiding our kids and disciplining them.”
While Kevin and Mara recognize their ex-spouses’ rights to see the kids, they each maintain a civil relationship with their former partners for the sake of their children. Now that they have a newborn of their own, it’s important for all their children to see that their biological parents can manage to keep good relationships with each other. It’s much easier for Diana, because as long as her ex-husband still sees his sons, he’s okay. And she’s friends with Karl’s ex-wife.
Living without the drama
A blended family is a husband, wife, the kids they had before and after the marriage or partnership, and possibly the ex-spouses. When it comes to dealing with everyone – from former in-laws to family friends and the occasional well-meaning busybody – Diana suggests common decency and respect. Her advice for times when you encounter any offensive questions is to “smile, and answer truthfully and directly”. Later on, bring the subject up with your partner. Diana pointedly adds, “In the end, you’ll be marrying him – not them – anyway. They can [say mean things] and gossip all they want but they can’t come between you. If your partner allows that, then he isn’t the man for you.”
Kevin’s advice is to not take problems too seriously. “It’s important to have faith in your partner. Remember that he or she is your best friend. Understand that now, you have each other and you’re the best people to have each other’s backs, no one else. You are no longer alone. Always protect each other.” He emphasizes the importance of communication, to “say what’s on your mind … It could be the most trivial thing in the world but talk about it anyway … Discard the negatives. Love each other no matter what”.
MAKING IT WORK
Diana lists her ‘ingredients’ to make blended families live in relative harmony: open-mindedness; acceptance that you both had your own lives before getting together; willingness to adapt; and communication and connectedness. Like any family, they value time well-spent together and they sincerely enjoy each other’s company and love to talk to each other.
Kevin, on the other hand, lists his as: trust, faith, and commitment; being considerate of your partner’s needs and feelings; meaning what you say; flexibility; not taking problems or yourself too seriously; prioritizing family over everything else — and to find things to be happy and laugh about every day.