Have you ever blended a family? Not in Africa on a super funny holiday with Adam Sander and Drew Barrymore, but in real actual life? I have. I’m not claiming any special blending family know how though. Just putting it out there.
We have what’s most commonly known as a blended family. Ours is a particular blend of me and mine and him and his and none of ours. I’m not sure if this makes it easier or harder than any other blended family, but it’s just how it is.
I have had this type of blended family before, but am claiming no blending expertise. Just experience. That taught me that you can’t really have expertise about something that is about at least 4 adults (who love or like or dislike each-other to varying degrees) and at least 6 children (who have grown up in at least two different households). Yer. It’s nuts.
The only thing I know for sure? It’s going to keep changing.
My guy and I decided to move in together in April 2016. That is we had a conversation in early 2016 about the fact that one day we would do that. He’s much more manly than me about certain things (logical, considered, structured, planning) which is good, so the original conversation pushed the time-frame out for actual cohabiting until the end of the year at least. We decided that a fresh start in a new house that wasn’t his or mine would be good. I’m pretty sure this was mostly my suggestion because I’ve blended a family before in my house and while it worked, a fresh start seemed more appealing. And to be honest I was being somewhat territorial about the possibility of his daughter being territorial in his house (like I said, not that logical).
Anyway, property prices were awesome to buy (and we spent a few weeks drooling over some beautiful houses and trying to work out the logistics of enough bedrooms for 5 fairly permanent children (including 1 boy and 1 teenager and 1 girl who has never had to share a room and 2 girls who’ve always had to share) and 1 adult child (I know this is an oxymoron) who may come and visit us if we made it easy enough and possibly an au pair, plus ourselves and my dream to have a studio space to work at home from), but not great to sell and the whole time we were looking at houses, I was not seeing the house right under our noses (his magnificent house) with capacity for 6 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms and a massive studio. Suddenly, my house was on the market, and his house was having a few minor renovations and then it was move day. About 3 months after the conversation giving us 12 months to work it out. Please remind me how farking hard that was if I mention moving anytime again in the next 3 (30) years or so.
The week before we moved in, the mother of his two children made a decision to move 430km away for reasons of her own. Suddenly as well as blending we had all 5 children most of the time, and 2 children coming to terms with 4 new people moving in and a mother moving away. I don’t highly recommend this method of #changeverythingatonce however, how would you know if it would have been easier any other way?
So now, just like that, we are officially blended. Lol. Like a really freaking chunky smoothie. Curdled. Left in the sun for 4 hours.
It’s a big job. Loving other people’s kids is a big job. Loving people isn’t a big job if you are generally a loving person, but sometimes your own kids are challenging, and although you don’t ever stop loving them, sometimes they are hard to like. I always said that parenting was unreasonable because you don’t ever have to spend that much time with another person without a break or an opportunity to tell them to not come over for a week or so. Stepchildren do not come with a simple foundational level of love and ease. Even if they have many loveable things about them. Even though you love their parent and you know they come with the territory and you don’t have any desire to change that, you just need to work out how to make it work. Although I have no doubt that it will all be OK, sometimes I have panic attacks in the walk-in-robe while I imagine the next 15 years until they are all somewhat adultly.
So here’s what I think about blending, from within my experience and at this stage that we are at. About 9 months in. In no particular order.
- Don’t expect them all to get along all or even most of the time. They didn’t get along with their 1 or 3 siblings before this all or even most of the time, so it’s unlikely that even though they have nicknames for each-other and sometimes play uninterrupted for hours and occasionally amuse each-other, mostly they are all just trying to get what they want for themselves in the new arrangement. Unfortunately many of the old techniques don’t work I the new arrangement, so the beginning is a lot of lots of people not getting what they want as often thinking it was better before. It wasn’t better before, just different.
- Get on the same page with each other about the rules about things they will always try to bend on you.See, it’s likely they have grown up with different rules. They also have another household with different rules and another parent who may or may not be supportive of co-parenting with other co-parents. Be patient about how long it might take to get clear on the rules, but once you know what they are, regularly touch base on how you can support each other to keep them in place. Otherwise, I promise you, it’s complete freaking chaos. The things they will always try to bend on you include things such as:
- The amount and frequency of technology
- Not having a shower or having really long showers, hanging up your wet towels (can I suggest here if you have more than one child get colour coded towels so you can always chuck the wet towel on the floor at the correct child to hang up!) and/or putting your dirty stuff in the laundry basket or keeping your not dirty stuff in your room
- What constitutes nutrition and when dessert is appropriate
- Where your shit (like shoes, school bags, lunch boxes etc.) live
- Chores or being a good human and contributing to the household that feeds and shelters you
- All that completely boring stuff that you get sick of saying over and over again.
- Book regular date nights and time where you get to be the couple that are not just the parents. We have 1 complete free kid night per fortnight (I get that families that have not separated have all their kids all of the time, but I think it’s fair to say we can hold that child-free time up in the pinnacle of time!), but date night SHOULD NOT BE THIS NIGHT ONLY. This night is best spent in full nurture and recovery mode. Date night needs to happen mid-week in the middle of the school routine and the arguments about “being excluded” and “touching my stuff” and wet towels so that you get a breather for a couple of hours and then can go on with life as a Blender/Blendee (this definition depends on whether or not you are doing it well, sometimes you will be making smoothies like a motherfucking boss, and other times you will be being chopped into a thousand tiny pieces and eaten up). That’s OK. The best way to get back to being the Blender is to go on date night AND take some time for yourself.
- This point is relevant for ANYONE, parent or not, blended family or not. Look after yourself! Work out what you need to show up as a motherfucking boss and go do that first before you try blending anyone or anything. Exercise regularly, eat well, get plenty of sleep, drink water, go for coffee with your girlfriends or to the speedway with your mates, read a book, watch an inspiring documentary, find out what really lights you up in life and work and go do that purpose-fuelled stuff because it means that turning on the wisdom and the energy at the end of a big day is not so hard.
- I’m always banging on about support. Get some support! We can argue all day about whether or not you can afford out of school hours care or a cleaner or someone to drop off some meals, or whether or not Nanna loves having then all day but I can tell you that support is worth it’s weight in gold. Yes, you do have to consider the budget, but value your sanity first and trust that if it’s the right thing it will work out.
- Work out how to have holidays that work. I have yet to have a relaxing holiday with my children (this was before blending of any kind was ever attempted by me). They are not yet big enough or adulty enough to want to just sit on sun lounges and read or go to sunset yoga or enjoy afternoon naps. So going on holidays with more kids and having some false idea you’ll get to do those things is probably going to break you. It does break you. I was broken by this. Before and after blending. Plan it well, where you’re going, what you’re doing most days, if you have the budget to take 4 million children to theme park or on an aeroplane and eat as well, and prep the kids for that. They will still (and often) behave like spoilt brats and you will want remind them how you never travelled with iPads (or air-conditioning half the time) and how they should be grateful and appreciative and not behave like brats. But they will, and you will have made sure you are taking your energy smoothies and breathing essential oils and finding other friends with kids to catch up with so everyone can be momentarily distracted.
- Don’t give up on all the dreams you had before. This is a funny one, because in a new relationship with new opportunities there are new futures and new dreams right? Yes, there are. But this is relevant to the parents who are not blending too. And the ones who thought they might have children and haven’t. There are things you’ve always wanted to do and perhaps imagined to do when you were single, or child free, or had one child or four children. Some of those things will change. But some of them just need to be jigged to work in the extra children and the extra adult and if you can find a way to blend them in you’ll stop resenting the reason/s you thought you couldn’t do them. Once we had 5 kids under the roof most of the time, in the age and personality combination we had, I pretty much gave up on life for a few months. Then I found some breathing space and came back to some of it in the new format. But some of it I just couldn’t see (at that time) being possible. Like international travel. Like travel any further than about 500km. It seemed that some of the things I wanted in my work (like travel, running retreat interstate, attending training overseas) might have to wait for a decade or so, and although I didn’t acknowledge this out loud, I felt pretty trapped. But like anything, get some space and some support, work out how to show up like a motherfucking boss and work out how you can get what you want if it’s still a thing you want.
- Be as respectful and supportive of the other parents’ as possible, whilst maintaining clear boundaries and keeping the communication open. It’s OK if this is not reciprocated. Your job is just to be the best version of you; so all the kids know it’s safe to love the other people in their life. Obviously if they spend most of their time with you, they are going to think the other parent is a theme park made of gold and sugar. You may be threatened with a preference to live elsewhere because you said no, implemented rules and didn’t accept manipulation as a form of getting stuff done but that is OK. Kids need security and routine, and they’ll be great humans one day who will appreciate everything you did. Yes, this may be a decade or so away when they become more adulty and don’t think the afternoon nap is a punishment, but stay honest and in integrity with who you are with this.
- Remember life is not fair, has never been fair and fairness is an expectation that is right up there with perfection. Impossible. And debilitating. Stop trying to make it fair. Just focus on doing what feels right, even if there are wails of “not fair”. It’s unlikely, until they are grown up and have their own children that they can get a different perspective on this. I cannot love them all them same. I love them all the same amount (although it’s not really an amount but I don’t know how you quantify this) but in different ways, for different things.
I’m sure there’s more. I’ll update as we go. I’m honouring point 4 right now and am away from home on a writing retreat, so I may be missing a few of the super important points. That’s OK. I hope this helps. Just keep going. I reckon you’ll be doing a great job as a parent, blending or not. Just don’t ever forget who you are, and there will always be a way home. A smooth way home.