My partner and I have five kids between us – three full time and two part time. His two come to visit twice a week, staying overnight every fortnight. As with any family, our kids have their moments when they don’t get along however they also enjoy the fun times we have together as a big, combined family.
We’ve made some adjustments along the way to make life easier, much the same as any growing family does. We purchased a larger home together, worked out a feasible routine in order to share the burden of kids’ activities, transport, holidays schedules, etc.. Most importantly however, we’ve put communication first when it comes to dealing with issues that have come up regarding discipline, finance and scheduling commitments involving our kids. As in any dual parenting situation – it’s important that the parents agree on child rearing/discipline tactics so that they present a cohesive, united front to their children. I feel very fortunate that my partner and I share similar ideas on how to raise and discipline our children. I can only imagine how difficult things would have been had we not shared this in common. I highly recommend couples consider this matter seriously as its an extremely sensitive issue.
In the early months after my partner and I moved in together, there was a sort of “grace period” when I feel we both allowed our kids a bit more slack as they adjusted to their new, larger family. We did our best to mediate any conflict between the kids and were extra sensitive in situations when we needed to discipline the others’ kids. In general, I think I was more comfortable managing his kids – we have them for shorter periods and as a result have fewer issues to contend with. He, on the other hand, lives with my children full time. We both were aware that he and they needed time to become comfortable with eachother before he stepped into a role of parent/disciplinarian. As with his ex, my ex is actively involved in my kids’ lives. My partner was conscious of this fact and did not want my kids worrying that he was trying to replace their father.
My 13 year-old daughter was the one I worried most about during this delicate transition period. Being the eldest and also the person that she is, she was very protective of me during this period. She was slower to warm up to my partner than her younger two siblings. Although I tried talking with her about the new changes, she was reluctant to talk about it, probably out of fear of upsetting me. At my suggestion, she met with a guidance counsellor at her school and was able to sort things out/put things in perspective better. With her permission the counsellor met with me and helped to alleviate some of the concerns my daughter and I had. I would highly recommend this for families adjusting to new living situations such as this.
Fast forward a year down the track and things are going well. My partners’ relationship with my kids has grown to the point where they see him as a parent figure and are happy asking him for assistance as well as just hanging out and enjoying his company. I am incredibly grateful that things have worked out so well and that my kids are benefiting from his involvement in their lives. I realise that things don’t always go so smoothly in other split family situations, however keeping in mind some of the things I’ve suggested might help to alleviate some pressures.
I’ve heard my share of horror stories from acquaintances about challenges they’ve faced in their own split family situations – kids becoming resentful, angry, jealous, parent disagreements regarding the discipline of the other partner’s children, and parents feeling caught in the middle between their kids and their new partner. As a result I think I anticipate our real challenges as a split family could be lurking around the bend. In the meantime, however, we continue to learn and grow – both from our kids and with our kids.