by Philippa Kershaw
Since meeting my new partner, the number of teenagers in my life has suddenly doubled to 4. Meaning double the hormones, double the relationship and friendship issues, double the social media woes, double the school and career dilemmas, double the attitude, and not to mention double the vapes. The popular new labels and advice about how to be a successful ‘blended family’ or ‘alternative family’ or ‘extended family’ do not seem useful to help me navigate the vast minefield of co-parenting and teenage angst. We are not a blended, watered-down version of a ‘nuclear’ family; we are individuals as well as a family. Dysfunctional like any other family with teenage children with a few important differences.
1. We are not clean slates.
Consider the complex past experiences of, not only teenagers but also our own experiences of ‘step’ parenting and how this in turn shapes our own ability to parent. I know that personally, I have had to confront my own complex feelings of rejection and neglect as a child and also know that my newest additions have experienced similar from a previous partner so sharing some of this can be helpful to understand where each individual is coming from and not repeat past mistakes.
2. Importance of ‘joined up’ parenting.
Acknowledge that co-parenting is difficult; it may be the reason that you split with your previous partner and yet you are still having to parent together. Not only this, but now you have to accept the way your current partner's parents too. Take the lead from your partner and try to respect their relationship and parent in a similar style. Try not to undermine your partner and have conversations in private when you disagree. This extends to all parenting decisions from the previous partners too.
3. Put up a ‘This is how is how we do it here’ sign above the door.
Carving out a new direction for your family with your current partner is not easy especially as behavioural expectations can be so different for different parents. Be consistent with your expectations and boundaries and over time this will become the norm in your home even if rules are different elsewhere. Stick it out and don’t let anything slide.
4. Don’t push it
The dynamics of each family are so different. The living arrangements, individual schedules, distance, age, and personalities can prove to be a logistical nightmare to work around. It is likely that parenting takes place over several houses, with several people and maybe hundreds or even thousands of miles apart so give everyone time. Time to accept a new partner, new siblings even new cousins. Let them opt in and out of different situations and don’t try to force a situation. Accept that personalities are different and that space is important in establishing new relationships.
4. Remind them that they are loved.
Remind them every day. Remind them that it may look different for different people and in different situations. They. Are. Loved.
So, ditch the ‘blended family’ label if it doesn’t work for you. Every family is unique. Do it your way. I have just discovered that my partner’s children refer to me by my initials in private. Apparently, it sounds like a French football team which actually is a pretty perfect label for our little team in this current season.