Dealing with a blended family

By Drum Digital
02 July 2014

They are becoming increasingly common – blended families, in which people who already have children are forming new relationships. In no time you have “my children, your children and our children” – all under one roof.

Then there are the exes to take into consideration. It can be a battlefield.

New research in Britain shows one in three children are growing up in a house in which one of the parents isn’t the child’s biological mom or dad. Figures for South Africa aren’t available but stepmothers, stepfathers, stepbrothers and stepsisters aren’t unusual.

Bertia Brady (33) of Cape Town has a blended family. She and her ex-husband have a seven-year-old daughter, Beth, but after their divorce both found love again. Bertia is engaged to a man who has two children from a previous relationship. Four years ago her ex-husband married a woman who had a son, and since then the family has gained three babies.

Between the four parents they now raise five children. It’s called co-parenting. “If the focus is on the children everything will work out well,” says Christof Sharp, founder of CoParenting South Africa.

“Divorce is an ugly, difficult thing,” Bertia says, “but we’re the adults. Things are a problem for children only if the adults make them a problem.” Experience has taught her important lessons in life. Here’s her advice and also what experts have to say:

  • Don’t run down your ex in front of your children, Bertia says. Your new partner must not do so either. “If your new partner makes disparaging remarks about your ex your partner will immediately make enemies of the children because your partner will never be the children’s biological parent,” says Centurion psychologist Dr Hermann Liebenberg. “If you shoot an arrow at your ex’s heart it goes through your children’s hearts.”
  • When you want to get children from different relationships used to one another use social media such as WhatsApp and Facebook to help them initially get to know one another, says Christof.
  • “I try to visit my ex and his new wife with all the children as often as possible,” Bertia says. “There’s nothing that a child from a divorced family likes more than seeing everyone together.”
  • Involve your ex and your ex’s new family at important times, Bertia says. “Photographs of Beth losing her milk teeth were immediately shared with her dad and stepmom.
  • When it comes to discipline you, as a stepparent, shouldn’t be too quick to discipline your stepchildren, says Bellville psychologist Maryna Johnson. “You should first have a meaningful relationship with them before you discipline them. Remember, discipline can vary from house to house. Don’t enforce your approach. It’s important that you and your partner make decisions about this as a team and deal with the children together.”
  • It’s not wise to act too much like a friend with your stepchildren, especially when they’re younger, Dr Liebenberg says. “You’re still the parental figure, even if you’re not the biological mom or dad.” Don’t take everything a stepchild says personally, Maryna says. “They’re also dealing with their own pain. Children often show how they feel by their behaviour.”

- Pieter van Zyl

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