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Our blended family doesn’t always get on

Our agony aunt Mary Fenwick offers words of wisdom to help with whatever is troubling you

by Psychologies

Q. I’m a mum to two boys, aged 10 and eight, from a previous marriage, who live with us full-time, and stepmum to a girl, eight, and boy, seven, who live with us 50 per cent of the time.

Mostly, the children get on well and adore each other. However, problems arise when one of them is naughty, for whatever reason, which causes friction between me and my partner. I know you’ve written about this saying how, if you’re in a negative mood, you’re susceptible to giving preferential treatment, and I can relate to that, but what’s the answer?

My partner has a chronic condition which affects his mood, and everyone else. I’m not blaming him, as I feel negative as well. What can I do? Name supplied

A. My experience of bringing together a blended family is that it takes between three and five years to gel.

We can’t overlook your partner’s health, but the onus is on the adults to show the children how we manage pain, whether it’s physical or emotional. One option for him might be the Pathway through Pain online course, and your GP should be able to advise on access.

When we got together, my husband brought his perspective as an executive coach. If the family was a new team at work, we would expect: form, storm, norm and perform. The first stage is full of idealism. Storms emerge as politeness fades, and people start to argue. ‘Norm-ing’ means ‘maybe the rules are different with your other parents, but this is how we do it here’. The aim is a family that performs well enough to disagree, without things falling apart.

The area in which you need to over-perform is communication as a couple. One of my youngsters says, ‘I could always tell when you had gone away and discussed something, then came back and spoke to us about it.’ It’s much better when it’s clear that both parents want the best for the children. Another says, ‘We all knew there was one rule for everyone when we walked into the house.’

Certain routine events will be predictable flash points, such as mealtimes and bedtimes. Could you have a family meeting to talk about the options, up to and including, ‘We all grab whatever we want, then run away from the table when we feel like it’? In parallel, create clear fun times – a day out, or a meal where the children are in charge and the adults are waited on. The cherry on the cake would be some adult one-to-one time with each child, even half an hour once a month.

You and your partner need to be your own best friends and cheerleaders. Celebrate the good times and remember, one day you will miss even the yelling and the tears.

Mary Fenwick is a business coach, journalist, fundraiser, mother, divorcée and widow. Follow Mary on Twitter @MJFenwick. Got a question for Mary? Email mary@psychologies.co.uk, with ‘MARY’ in the subject line.

Photograph: iStock

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