The beauty of a blended family is that communication is key. Yumna Africa-Juries, shares her story
Tell me about your family?
My husband has 2 boys currently aged 18 and the youngest turning 14. Brandon, 18 year old, lives with us and Dylan, 14 lives with BM (biological mom). Brandon came to live with us at the age of 14 in 2014 and Dylan still comes to us every second weekend since the age of 6. That’s when I first met them. They were 10 and 6 years old respectively.
How did you and spouse meet? And how long are you together?
Dawood and I met at work. We worked for the same company for about 3 years before he and I got together. We started talking while both of us were going through separation from our then spouses and we just ended up being together. We are together for 7 years now and married for 5.
How did the kids take the news that there are now more that will be joining the family?
When I first met them, Brandon was not a fan of me. Dylan was only 6 so he didn’t really understand what was happening. Brandon was under the impression that I would take their dad away from me. I went through the “she is not my mother” phase with Brandon. But about a year into my husband and my relationship, he started warming up to me. I was very open with him, so he soon realized that I wasn’t going to take his dad anywhere.
What are the house rules?
Simple rules. Respect the people you live with and respect the house you live in. I had to pound this into them for many reasons. One, is that we are a Muslim household but the boys are still Christian (parenting plan rules) so they think certain things don’t apply to them. Also, they had no inclination of what respect meant so this was another thing I had to teach them. Just basic respect for everyone, your elders and each other as brothers.
How have you enforced the rules that are both suited to your parenting styles?
Luckily my husband and I were just naturally on the same page so everything fell into place just the way it should. As the years went on and an issue would arise that we weren’t prepared for, we would discuss it and decide from there, and one of us would address it with the boys. We always spoke to the boys about what we expected from them as our children.
How do you combine what is important to both of you?
You need to be open and transparent with each other. I might not like something but for my husband it might not be such a big deal or vice versa. We would talk to each other about it and make decisions from there.
How do you resolve conflict in the family?
Discuss, discuss, discuss. We talk about everything that bothers us.
What things are you doing as a family that helps the bonding process?
You know, all a kid needs is love. You can shower them with gifts all you want but loving them really makes an impact on them and how they progress into caring human beings. So, spending time with them whether it’s a game we play one night or going to a restaurant or even just sitting around the dinner table after supper and talking helps. When the boys were younger, all they wanted to do was play so going to game arcades was a thing. Now that they’re older, sitting with us and talking is what they enjoy when we’re home.
What do guys do as a couple that keeps those romantic fires burning?
Wow. This is tough for us at this point. But previously when the boys weren’t with us we would go away for the weekend. We don’t have time for this at this point as my mother lives with us and Brandon is matric so we let him focus on his studies. My husband and I haven’t gone away alone for a while. But next year our plan is to spend a lot more time together as a couple.
How do you ensure that everyone’s emotional needs are taken care of?
Again, we talk. We can easily see if anything is bothering the boys and we ask. We always told them to also speak up and talk to us if anything bothers them. They have been pretty easy to deal with over the years though. But my husband and I go out of our way to ensure that they are happy. When my husband was going though his divorce, BM took Brandon to a psychologist and he hated it. He eventually stopped seeing the psychologist and when he came to live with us we didn’t want to put him through all that again so we would talk as a family. We would tell him about our experiences as teenagers and what we went through and this would help him understand. Again we’re very open with the boys, so we tell them the truth.
How do you handle ex-spouses?
I didn’t handle her, I personally choice to not get involved with BM. Until we had a family crisis involving Dylan. It was then that I realized, you know what, I am as much a part of this family as both biological parents. I still never got involved in decisions they made for the boys BUT I offered support in any form that both she or my husband needed. And I must say after all the years of taking the backseat, she actually appreciated that more at that time and currently because it makes life so much easier for the boys, for her as their mother and for my husband and myself as a couple. So we don’t sit together at the same fire but if she needs help she asks me.
What advice would you give other newly blended families?
I would tell them to be open and honest with each other especially with the kids. They need to understand the dynamic of the family and why we make the decisions we do. Its all for them.
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