Swati’s daughter is about ten now and Swati’s new husband has a sixteen-year-old and a twenty-two-year-old. Swati’s daughter lives with them almost all the time while her husband’s youngest comes to stay every two or three weeks. His eldest daughter is away at college. I asked Swati what tips she and her husband had for creating a happy blended family. Here’s Swati:
I have a two-bedroom, two-bath condo, so we’re not in a sprawling house so that in itself is an adjustment. And if you’ve ever been in a single-parent household, you just end up having a different relationship with your child than I even did, with either of my parents growing up because it’s just the two of you.
Even the little things, like I don’t really watch TV. My daughter wants to watch Nickelodeon. So, I swear the house was always set on Nickelodeon and it was no big deal to me because I don’t watch TV. Well, of course my husband’s into sports or the news, and he watches more TV than I do, so my daughter is immediately,
“Wait a minute, I don’t have full reign over the big TV.”
“No, you don’t, but…” and then the conversations start.
I would say his sixteen-year-old needed some re-affirmation that just because he loves somebody else doesn’t mean he doesn’t love his kids, and probably the same for the twenty-two-year-old. I think it was probably really hard for them when their parents got divorced, and they remember it because they were older. It’s a continuous conversation of,
“just because I’m marrying somebody doesn’t mean I don’t love you,”
and assuring them that they will always have a home to go to, even though the two of us are joining together.
We’ve had a lot of conversations about treating our kids the same, like both of us treating it as if we both have three kids in total, but I still think sometimes all three of them say “I only want to spend time with you because you are my parent” and I think that’s natural. Sometimes we’ll be able to accommodate it and sometimes we won’t.
It is hard, because when something is right in front of you, you want to say something and both of us kind of bite our tongues in our respective situations, just to recognize that not everything has to be addressed right away. Some things will come down on their own, to be a little generous and gentle with the kids, because they are going to act out a little bit. Then other times, if it’s over the top, of course we’ll say something. We’re not just going to let our kids be rude and do whatever they want to. I know and I think he knows, some of it is just because it’s a big life change.
I think each of them has their own anxieties. I think for my daughter it’s this day-to-day,
“I used to have full reign of this house with you mom, and now I have to listen to another person.”
We don’t discipline each other’s kids, but still, if you have another adult in the house, it’s a change. I don’t want my daughter doing anything that’s clearly rude or really, really poor behavior and my husband will stop her from doing that. It’s all these little things around the house that I prefer to step in for, all the everyday things. And similarly, his daughter is a teenager, so she does sometimes do the screamy, drama, teenage girl thing that all of us did, and there are a couple of times where I’ve told him “oh my God, I cannot take that for one more minute, so you have to go stop it, or I’m going to say something” and so far he’s been able to manage it.
Sometimes I feel like every single instance is another opportunity for learning.
The Divorce Coach Says
First off, I have to say that unlike so many terms associated with divorce, I like the term “blended family” – I like it because it’s positive and implies success, after all, if the family members weren’t together then they wouldn’t be blended.
Blending families is a really challenging, difficult job. Introducing another person to your household, no matter what their relationship or age is going to change the dynamics. When it involves children and their parent with their relationship history, it’s bound to get complicated and you can’t expect it to be smooth sailing.
I like that Swati recognizes the importance of carving out time to spend solo with her daughter – a friend of mine was talking to me about that just recently and how her daughter still appreciates that one-on-one time even though my friend has been with now-husband for well over ten years. Maybe losing that special relationship is a big fear of kids? The discipline issue has got be difficult – I know we all get protective when it comes to someone else telling our children what to do. What’s worked for you? How do you figure out when you have to say something directly and when do you go through your partner?
Photo Credit: popculturegeek.com