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Lessons in Modern Family Life

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It's often the case that people in the public eye only say the things they want to share in a magazine - although sometimes the things they wouldn't are printed without them having the choice.

This time I'm going to show a chink in our family armour by sharing because on this occasion I know a number of parents out there will identify with the situation we are experiencing as a 'modern family unit'.

It's not a crisis, but certainly a situation that requires a lot of thought and careful handling.

As many parents will agree, not everything is always as rosy in the gardens of parenthood as we would like. Of late I feel like I'm going through a particularly challenging phase with my youngest son, Freddy.

He is acutely jealous of the increasingly more frequent appearances of my girlfriend Nicola's three-year-old daughter, Poppy, and it's causing concern.

Poppy has known the boys for six months now. Things started off amazingly well for the children. We were very careful with their first few Introductions, choosing neutral venues like soft play areas and parks to allow them all to feel comfortable whilst meeting each other for the first time. It was a dream start.

It's important for me that I work hard on my relationship with Poppy. She is my girlfriend's daughter and - although she has a perfectly good daddy of her own, and is in no need of another - I want to show the boys how important it is that we care for those that care about us unconditionally.

As the months have gone by, the early pleasantries and best behaviour have lapsed at times. On more than one occasion we have been left with the realisation that bringing small children together Is nothing short of a mission that requires the tactical astuteness of a chess grand master and the patience of the Buddha himself!

Don't get me wrong, we still experience those magical occasions when everything clicks and they all get on like they were siblings from birth; wrapping their arms around each other, and screaming with glee, as they run around the house playing a game.

So it's certainly not all bad, far from it. But at times, Freddy clearly feels his home territory has been well and truly invaded and that Poppy is competing for my attention. That causes him to comment on much that she says, correcting her as she goes, and perhaps show how much older, sophisticated and clever he is.

I don't like to see this behaviour. I consistently tell him that good people notice the good in others and it is this wonderful quality I have seen and enjoyed in him so many times before.

Some might always side with their own child, but I simply call it as it is.

It would be wrong of me to defend something that is clearly a reflex of a child who feels threatened. Whether it's valid or not, I believe the way to deal with these frictions between the two is to take Freddy aside to reassure him, and explain why it's wrong. I'm worried that if I criticise or tell him off, it'll backfire on both of us by making him feel it is Poppy who is getting him into trouble.

My fear is that his feelings of insecurity have been heightened by the loss he has already suffered, and it's totally understandable that the thought of losing his remaining parent in any way, in this sense the intimacy we share feeling threatened by another child, may be causing this out of character behaviour.

Like many parents with a modern family set up - step-children, half-brothers and sisters, second or third marriages - I feel that I will have work harder and be more intelligent and measured about the way I treat my kids. I know I have to make Freddy as secure as I can, in order that he will see Poppy not as an occasional inconvenience, but as a wonderful resource, asset and, hopefully, firm friend.

I say 'occasional' because, fortunately, I often hear Freddy talking about 'his sister' with great warmth and affection. He responds very well to responsibility meaning he really likes to play the 'big brother' to her, natural given that he is seven and she is three. Nicola and I are encouraging and empowering him as much as possible.

I'm Incredibly grateful that Nicola has been so patient with Freddy because I'm sure his behaviour towards Poppy and his remarks when they arise hurts her a little. But we communicate well and appreciate that integrating the kids was always going to be a marathon and not a sprint.

Poppy has her moments too. That she loves the boys already is clear to see, yet when she is being a bit whiney, as all three-year-olds are entitled to be, we find this sometimes sets the boys off as well. They instantly either whinge about her whining or seize the opportunity to wind her up and make her worse! We're working on them so that the boys 'drop a shoulder and go the other way' when Poppy's not at her best. As far as Poppy is concerned, the more routine she has the more consistently happy she is so we are working on that too.

Nicola and I discussed that to improve the bond between them all she could allow Poppy more time with us without mummy. As is often the case, without mummy or daddy around, our children very often typically give the best version of themselves.

I recently tested this theory by taking Poppy and Freddy swimming by myself and it was great for my relationship with Poppy (who as a rule doesn't like doing anything without mummy - until she's out the door and then has a great time) and great for my efforts with Fred.

I was able to immerse him in the area that he needs exposure to, sharing me with Poppy. It's all a question of balancing out my attention and I certainly felt like I had swam and juggled at the same time that afternoon!

Luckily because of her age Poppy doesn't sense any of the threat that Freddy discretely displays and fortunately remains oblivious.

It's so Important because if the kids are happy then we as parents are happy too. When there's a niggle it can often take up the whole of our evening, but I guess that's what we signed up for and if we weren't optimistic about our relationship and our abilities as parents to overturn the teething problems, then we wouldn't have made a go of it In the first place.

I'm so proud of my children and don't believe there is a single thing that could be thrown at them that they couldn't cope with. But neither do I believe In shielding them from everything that causes them difficulties - these are valuable lessons that prepare them for life.

I have all faith that Fred will get stronger and more settled in the very near future, leaving us to be one incredibly happy family.

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