I write this article on a topic very close to my heart. As a 42 year-old mother, ex wife, step-parent, sister and friend to many who have been through, or are going through similar experiences in their lives right now – it can work!
It feels like your world is crumbling around your ears when your relationship breaks down – whether it’s been your decision or not. Emotions are rife, for a multitude of reasons. There’s so much to consider. Who’s going to live where? What about the kids? How will we survive financially independently? What about the house? Your brain is running at 100mph.
You manage it. You’ve succeeded. You’ve taken charge of your life. Things are the way they need to be. There are arrangements in place where both parents can parent (or not). Life is picking itself back up again.
Then, new relationships form, and, for many, this is the point where emotions run high again.
To begin with, as a single-parent, even considering inviting others into your family unit is daunting and not something many people do without serious consideration. People think they have a right to judge – they do not. But you then find that not only do you have the judgements you make on yourself to consider, i.e. am I doing the right thing for me and my child(ren)? But the judgement of others – common culprits are the other biological parent, grand-parents and close friends.
However, getting over those hurdles and getting to a place where you and your family are at ease and comfortable is so important. Then you get to a place where the extended family brings so much joy and adds so much value.
It’s a hard job being a parent. The hardest job in the world, but the most rewarding – I don’t think there’s a parent out there that would disagree.
Then there is being a step-parent, which I think is even harder. There are so many things to consider.
Times are changing. There are many more extended / blended / step-families (call them what you will) these days. It’s much more common now, and as a result, more socially acceptable than ten or twenty years ago. Personally, I see blended families, step-families or extended families as more of a positive than a negative.
How lucky are those children who have even more family members to love, care, nourish and nurture them?
In my eyes, as long as children have a strong bond with their biological parents and boundaries are in place, introducing extended family members to the mix can only add value.
It should never be a competition. Ever. A biological parent should never feel threatened or be made to feel threatened. Instead, both sets of parents should be grateful their children have the love of so many others.
This is when adults need to adult and think about the children, not themselves.
I believe there are a few golden rules that, if followed, should ensure things go smoothly.
Parents should never, ever, speak negatively about the other parents in front of the children – ever! Parents should never use their children as weapons to hurt ex-partners, or manipulate them, or make them feel guilty for the love they show for their other family members – whether biological or not.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m well aware children can be complex little creatures at times, especially introducing more children to family units, but if done with care and love and true, selfless, consideration, it can and should be seamless. We can learn a lot from our children. From the way they handle conflict. From their acceptance of life in general. When children see adults behaving the way they should, it removes a lot of those guilt and loyalty feelings that can and sometimes do arise as families extend and blend. Children are way more resilient than we give them credit for.
So, regardless of which role you play in the extended, blended, step-family, I urge you to embrace extended families for what they are – more people to love our children.
Our children are our lives, our future, our worlds, it should always be their emotions and experiences that matters most in these situations, not ours, and we must always put them first.
Because, at the end of the day, when we grow old, they’re going to treat us and others just how we taught them.