Parenting

Blended family: When past meets present…

What happens if you grow up as part of a blended family? And as an adult, marry someone with children and form your own blended family? Here’s the story of one adult who experienced just that

In this series, I’ve been blessed to interview some amazing families on their blended family lives. For me, it’s an honour because it’s a really private matter for most. But in this article, I interview an amazing woman who was part of a blended family as a child and then created her own blended family as an adult. (For the sake of all families concerned, she has requested to remain anonymous)

Growing up in a blended family

Tell me about your family?

I grew up in a blended family as both my parents remarried. My dad married a woman that came with 2 daughters, and had a son with his new wife and adopted a little girl, while my Mom married a man that came with 3 kids and she had a son with her new husband. I was now part of 2 households 2 different sets of rules. My Dad got divorced from my mom so that he could marry his new love. My Mom remarried 10 years later only. Those 10 years was the hardest in my paternal home as it came with lots of bitterness towards my Dad and his new family because of how it came about. Once my Mom remarried things changed she had her own little family complete with husband and additional children. Those dynamics changed how she saw life in the aftermath of divorce. I was cunning and smart and wanted the best of both worlds, so I worked on making this new world a fun place to be in. Slowly but surely things started changed and both sets of parents saw the benefits of having one set of rules that applies to everyone no matter which home we were in. Eventually it worked so well my parents visited each other in their respective homes. All the kids were happy as hell.

How did the kids take the news that there are now more that will be joining the family?

I was a complete Daddy’s girl and did not want to know anything about my Dad or his new wife, I was prepared to love her if it meant I get to keep my Dad and who I was in his life, his firstborn twin. I fought my mother on everything where my Dad was concerned. Once my Mom remarried everything changed. We were one big happy family, different homes but same rules, same curfews.

What are the house rules?

As a family we pray together in the morning before anything else and in the evening the last 2 prayers of the day. The midday prayers we had to complete at Madressa after school. We had the same pocket money for all. There were different chores assigned to different ones and equal opportunities for all in everything. One Eid we spent with each parent for lunch and on Eid, we didn’t get to choose Eid clothes – you wear what has been chosen for you. If we fight we will have to sit down with a parent and discuss what the troubles are and resolve it. We were very sheltered and protected in that there were so many of us we didn’t need any other friends

Tell us about the rules that were enforced both suited to their parenting styles?

My parents sat down and discussed the rules in each household like grown adult can do and then worked out the things they had to change or adapt on either side to allow for consistency.

How did they combine what was important to both of them?

Regular talks with each other and the fact that we were more like a huge family rather than 2 completely separate ones

 How do they resolve conflict in the family?

Open lines of communication

What things are you doing as a family that helps the bonding process?

Regular get togethers especially birthday celebrations

What did they do as a couple that kept the those romantic fires burning?

I have absolutely no idea what they were lol

How did they ensure that everyone’s emotional needs are taken care of?

I have absolutely no idea how they managed that

How do they handle ex-spouses?

They became the best of friends and today my Mom’s the only living survivor. And each and every one in our blended family, kids now grandchildren and great grandchildren sees my Mom as their Mother now.

What advice would your Mom give other newly blended families?

My Mom says, the most important piece of advice is that in order for this to work for the best for everyone is to have common ground rules and as parents to ensure that this new life and environment is about making it work for the children and has nothing to do with the egos of parents and their issues about who their ex’s married

My life now…married to my husband with my 3 children and his 3 daughters

Tell me about your family?

I married a man and his 3 daughters. I was a parent/ mother before I even became a mother. I was also guilty of expecting this to work like it did for my parents. Big mistake, my husbands ex was learning curve on a whole new level. My stepdaughters maternal grandma was my saviour. As much as I loved this woman and she loved me I was becoming a problem for her daughter.

How did you and spouse meet? And how long are you together?

We met through mutual friends. We were married within a year. I loved the fact that I was going to be a mommy to 3 little girls aged 2, 4 and 6. We are no longer together as a husband and wife but I am still mommy to the girls.

How did the kids take the news that there are now more that will be joining the family?

The kids had a very absent mother. I immediately fulfilled that role as a mother to them as they were so little. We had great times but as soon as their mother was back in town she would come and exercise her rights as their Mom. I have never disputed this fact but she always chose to exercise that right very aggressively and in front of the kids, had no respect for the rules we had. She would also bad mouth me to the girls even though she was already remarried and divorced again when I met my husband. She would tell the kids things like “she took your Daddy away”. As I said her Mother was my saviour, I became the daughter she wanted, she would cook meals for us as a family and call and say “ don’t cook I’ve made food come and collect”. I would take the girls out and would fetch their grandmother so she could enjoy time with them.

What are the house rules?

The house rules were as in any other, I could draw on a lot of my personal experiences. I was fully and completely a committed housewife and Mom and loved it. We had routines. We had play times. We had family time which was crucial especially time with Dad. If something was wrong or they felt scared or anything the communication lines were wide open always. There were to be no tales between our home and their Moms. All we wanted was for them to grow in a safe and healthy environment.

As a family this was the fundamental on which we based family life:

  • Our Marriage:  It’s hard to take care of a new marriage in a blended family because theres not as much couple time as most first marriages have, but without the marriage, there is no family. I knew that I had to grow and mature into the marriage whilst parenting
  • Relationships: to always be civil with one another rather than ignoring, purposely trying to hurt, or completely withdrawing from each other, it kept us on tract.   This is also not just referring to the kids’ behavior toward the adults. Respect should be given not just based on age, but also based on the fact that we are all family members now.
  • Compassion: All of us were at various life stages and had different needs. Also the different stages in accepting this new family. As a family  we had to to understand and honor those differences.
  • Development & Growth:  Allowing for room and hopefully the family will grow and we will always choose to spend time together and feel closer to one another.

How have you enforced the rules that are both suited to your parenting styles?

The rules were evident and consistent because there was genuinely only one household. The only time the rules were thrown out was when the Mom was back in town.

How do you combine what is important to both of you?

I pretty much learned about parenting from my husband but from a Dads perspective, so I had to draw on my life experience and my vision of what being Mommy is all about.

How do you resolve conflict in the family?

I always had the girls maternal grandmother on my side and when their Mom would say horrible things to them their Granny would tell them not to listen to her and that I am a good person and a good Mommy to them

What things are you doing as a family that helps the bonding process?

I felt as a “Mommy” that the girls are very fragile and tormented in a way that no child should be. These girls became my life and when I fell pregnant with my first child it became pregnancy experienced by 5 people. They were up front and centre in all anti natal visits, the completion of the baby’s room. They got to choose what the room would look like. As messy as it ended up being it was a labour of love

What do guys do as a couple that keeps those romantic fires burning?

We made a point of having time to ourselves doing what newly weds do when the kids were away at their Granny or when they were with their mom.

How do you ensure that everyone’s emotional needs are taken care of?

I didn’t care about the mother but I never made that known. It was most important to me that the girls are as balanced and healthy both mentally and physically. I split time with each one of them and we would do something together, whether it’s a movie to watch, a puzzle to complete or ballet lessons to go to. I always did paint their mom as a saint to them, I said that she had to go work in Johannesburg because there’s no work here etc .

How do you handle ex-spouses?

I literally ignored her as much as I could, I had a relationship with her mother and that was the important one. On the occasion that we did have words I would end up saying things like. “When you’ve grown up and find time come spend it with your girls”  or “ you’re doing all the things that will make your kids resent you one day”  or I would be nice and say “ You’re always going to be their mother, I’m just here being a Mommy because that’s what they need now”

We are divorced for close on 20 years but to this day I am still Mommy to those 3 girls, my Boys are their only brothers. The 5 of them have such a tight bond and it is beautiful to see that all is not lost when you do things with the right intentions.

They are all married and have kids of their own but I am still up front and centre at every birthday, school plays, ballet recitals, soccer matches.

Their Mom has come around , we can now be in the same room. I know that she has a lot of regrets because I am still to this day more the mommy to her girls than she is, but that is her own demons.

My life has moved on I also have a daughter now and she has become part of a blended family that extends far beyond, in fact she loves that she has much older sisters because that how they treat her like a sister .

When I look at all of them I feel both blessed to have been a part of the amazing humans they turned out to be in fact most people wont believe my ex’s middle daughter is not my own as she looks exactly like me, how is that for blessings.

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