By Sarah Tolmie
Things between my boyfriend and I are moving to next level. It is time to introduce our families together. We both have children from our previous partnerships. We are both in good relationship with our former partners who are the parents of our children. Any advice on how to manage this next step and maintain harmony and happy relationships?
I am pretty sure you are younger than me…so forgive me for the archaic reference…but surely you have heard of the iconic 70’s family show, the Brady Bunch. Even in the technicolour G–rated perfect TV family, nothing was perfect.
Blending families has always been tricky, messy and fraught. Thankfully, since the Brady Bunch, we’ve come a long way. Not only do we not need to pretend perfection, but we also have many role models of beautiful inclusive, diverse, blended families. Do you have some role models around you to take guidance from?
Beyond the biological, nuclear family unit – we now have what is sweetly named, your logical family. Which means simply, whatever makes sense for you and your kids and the important family of your creation.
Working in relationship and family coaching, I’ve seen many combinations of family arrangements that work and don’t work, and I’ve figured out some basic guidelines that might offer some food for thought for you.
Make sure all the adults involved behave like adults and then you can let the kids be kids.
This means the adults involved need to be willing to skill into what it takes, great communication, respect, good will and integrity. It means involving all the adults in the various relationship constellations that will be formed in the new family and partnership arrangements, and plan what you will say and when you will say it. Also, discuss how you will all commit and agree on arrangements moving forwards at each stage of change and growth, so that everyone is singing from the same songbook. i.e. Check in with the dad, before you introduce the boyfriend. What will you say? When will it happen? Maybe he needs to meet him too?
Define the boundaries of different relationships and roles.
No new partner of a parent should be expected to become a parent to your child. One of the greatest mistakes is when new partners assume or are expected by the other partner, to take part in the parenting. Leave the parenting decisions and active lead to the parent, (and work out your differences away from the children, so you can be a support and a united team). The new partner is, however, assuming a role of a very important adult, presence, role model and perhaps fellow resident in the home. The key word here is ‘boundaries’. This is a skill for a lifetime. We don’t perfect the art of ‘respectful and safe boundaries’ straight away, but just to know they exist, and learning ways to understand and care about them, and how to navigate different relationship boundaries, is a practice for everyone to commit to do well.
Give each member of the new relationships created, space to develop in their own good time.
Trust good people will be good people and in time we can find something we can like, respect, enjoy and honour about all the people in our life. Place no pressure on everyone becoming ‘best buddies’ and ‘forcing the love’. Rather, demonstrate and teach all parties to value kindness, respect, honesty and safety – (and whatever else are your ‘family values’) and then let each relationship in the various combinations in the family environments, develop their own unique alchemy.
Know the rules of the house (not the person).
Sometimes when kids move between houses/dwellings and different parents and caregivers, the rules change, and this can be confusing. You will be trying to combine many different ‘family styles’ and they don’t always form a singular, united approach. Each ‘household unit’ will have a different environment. Rather than demanding uniformity, it is ok to allow and adapt into a continuum of diversity and variety as long as the ‘family values’ are not contradicted. Rather than pinning rules on a person, it is often easier to know “how WE are in this house”. It is far less confrontational and invites agreement and participation by all.
Bringing new good humans to join your biological family to create your logical family can be the most exciting and rewarding of experiences. My personal rule of thumb is when kids and adults alike can lean into the task with great love, they can find a world of diversity, inclusivity, variety, nurturing, fun and colour.
Sure, the challenges are real, but what I find is that, knowing there will be challenges, aware parents are now heading them off at the pass before they brew. It just takes becoming conscious and deliberate in crafting the values, interpersonal and relationship skills and good communication. And good healthy loving.
Wishing you lots of love, laughs and learnings.
Sarah Tolmie – Life & Love: Sarah is a marriage therapist, life & love and relationship coach, end–of–life consultant, an independent and bespoke funeral director and holistic celebrant. She provides holistic care, mentoring, guidance, healing and transformation for individuals, couples and families at their most important times of life & love – at end–of–life, in love & relationship, and in ritual and celebration. Sarah has a relationship online course for couples called “Creating a Miracle Marriage” and a free resource and video series for families facing dying, death and grief called “Landscapes of Life & Love and Loss”.