Part of my speech at my second wedding was targeted at four kids amongst the guests; two of mine from my first marriage, and two of my wife’s from hers. I expressed our heartfelt gratitude to them for being so understanding, accommodating and flexible in sharing their parents with another adult, and for welcoming new step-siblings into their lives. Without their acceptance of the relationship, the marriage simply wouldn’t have gone ahead.
When my wife and I started dating we were very careful not to involve our kids in the situation too soon. Of course we were both aware that each other had kids who demanded significant amounts of our time and attention. The relationship was for the two of us first and foremost, and neither of us was searching for a step-parent for our kids. It made sense to take our time and see how it developed.
As things evolved and a long term future together seemed a possibility, thoughts of course turned to introducing each other to our kids. This still came over a year after we first met. Roll forward a few years and we’ve now been happily married for over three years, and the kids are now 18, 14, 13 and 10. My two are the eldest, and the 13-year-old is the only boy.
The structure of our blended family is complex, bordering on chaotic; I co-parent mine equally with their mum, whereas hers see their dad every other weekend. The different parenting arrangements mean our joint family time is limited to occasional weekends and the odd week during school holidays. As a blended family we’ve not had the wholesale melding of two families, two homes and two sets of rules. Nonetheless, there have been challenges along the way, and in a bid to help (or even just offer solace) to others in a similar situation, I wanted to share some of these now.
1) No matter the lengths you go to, jealousy will still rear its head. We’ve gone out of our way to act fairly and equitably towards each other’s kids but jealousy is still a factor, if only behind the scenes. I suspect that my youngest daughter feels supplanted as the ‘baby’ of the family with the arrival of two younger kids, which I guess is understandable. Then there’s the ‘stuff’. Materially, each gets the same treats, proportionate allowance, funding for school trips, hobbies and sports, but there are still complaints over perceived preferential treatment. Expenditure on birthday and Christmas gifts is carefully tracked to ensure equity and yet they all express feeling hard-done-by at times. Some battles just can’t be won. Perception prevails over reality.
2) Jealousy doesn’t just affect the kids. Both my wife and I came into our marriage knowing we were each devoted and committed to our kids first and foremost. In spite of this, I still feel pangs of jealousy when her kids compete for her attention over me. Frequent phone-calls from my eldest daughter also tend to cause a raised eyebrow from my wife when they threaten to interrupt our kid-free time. It’s hard as an adult to admit feeling jealous of a child, but it’s a struggle of blended family life.
3) Fairness in punishment and discipline is an art-form. The natural tendency is to be unduly harsh on our own kids and overly-biased in favour of the step-kids, thereby side-stepping the role of wicked step-father or mother. I still struggle with this after years as a blended family. I’ve been rightly called out on it by my own kids for favouring hers and being unduly hard on them. My wife has observed the same. I also feel my protective instincts rising when my wife chastises my kids. The challenge is akin to managing two kids who each accuse you of having a favourite. The only difference is there’s way more potential bitterness and recrimination at stake.
4) Combining two families with two sets of rules is HARD – Two sets of kids, two sets of rules and two different ways of life are hard to bring together seamlessly in a second-time marriage. I’m pedantic, a nit-picker and a stickler for tidiness and order, whereas my wife is more laissez-faire and happy to go with the flow. The two sets of standards reflect in the things we ask of our kids and the expectations we have of them. I find myself biting my lip when I want to exert influence over her kids and enforce my standards, whereas my kids envy hers for being given more freedom and leeway. While we’ve certainly moved towards a conjoined approach and a hybrid set of rules, it still causes issues from time to time when I’m deemed the uptight disciplinarian.
The challenges are of course completely offset by the benefits of the set-up. The middle-two kids share many interests (sports and online gaming, mainly) and being the closest in age tend to get along well. The eldest is a good role-model for all the others (when she can drop the façade of cool, demanded of an 18-year-old); the youngest child idolises her. Arguments and fall-outs among them are rare to almost non-existent. The biggest difficulties (such as they are) are those that occasionally get aired behind the scenes by the kids, and between me and my wife as we try manage the challenges of creating the happy blended family we aspire to.
Like many aspects of life in a second marriage, things aren’t always easy. As long as we maintain the pragmatism that life to now has equipped us with, along with a determination to live as a happy and loving family, then I’m sure that little can stand in our way.