a large family on a hillside


My Blended Family Isn’t Mixing Well — But We’re Working on It

Aug 3, 2018

My blended family has some lumps. With five kids ranging in age from eight to 19, there have been some challenges living together over the last three-and-a-half years.

I expected this, of course. Although bright-eyed and in love, I never thought it would be easy. But I also never anticipated it would be some of the smaller details that would trip us up.

My kids are the younger ones. At 8 and 12 years old, they are the youngest and the ones most supervised. For the one-and-a-half years between my divorce and moving in with my new partner, their routine didn’t change too much. They were under the same supervision, rules and expectations the whole time. My partner, however, had two years of what he calls survival mode: three daughters, lots of activities, a long work commute and a flexing of the rules.

Relevant Reading: How to Set Screen-Time Rules That Work

Which brings me to the issue of cookies for breakfast.

My rules are that cookies or sweets are a treat, with limited numbers allowed only after meals. Sometime during my partner’s survival mode his daughters took advantage of the relaxing of rules to go whole hog on treats and screen time.

When there are cookies in the house, my kids know they are allowed a maximum of two after a meal — not as a snack at any time of the day. So the first time they saw one of my partner’s daughters help themselves to a stack of cookies with — or sometimes for — their breakfast, they were surprised, envious and full of questions.

When I asked my partner about it, he referenced the survival mode of the past two years and noted he used to have similar rules in place, but when he wasn’t around all the time to enforce them, these new habits emerged. I explained how this was tough for my kids to witness, and at the end of that conversation we were in a tough situation.

I guess we’re both just relieved that they aren’t weed cookies for breakfast.

He still isn’t around enough to police his kids’ eating habits, and now that they are practically adults or firmly entrenched in their teen years, requests to change behaviours really aren’t going to do anything. 

And let’s face it – this falls into the category of little kids/little problems and big kids/big problems. I guess we’re both just relieved that they aren’t weed cookies for breakfast.

It’s a two-way street. I know the limited range of foods my kids will eat is frustrating for my partner, whose kids — cookies aside — eat a variety of foods. I don’t seem to be able to follow the rules he once used for his kids about clearing their main course plates or eating what was on offer that night for dinner. My daughter isn’t a huge fan of meat, so I don’t force her to eat it if she is prepared to make herself a vegetarian alternative.

Relationships take work. Families take work. Blended families… oh my gosh, you have no idea.

These differences seem small and inconsequential. But day after day, they add up. We’ve had to tell our kids that we have slightly different approaches to rules, from screen time to snacking. It may seem unfair to our kids, but as the adults, we have had to accept our differences in circumstances and styles. We can’t modify and police every parenting decision we’ve made over the past five years.

So far, it mostly seems to be working. From time to time, an issue resurfaces and we have to work on it. Relationships take work. Families take work. Blended families… oh my gosh, you have no idea. But if I take a control freak attitude and insist on equality for all, I will surely suffer the consequences.

Relevant Reading: When Friends' Parents Have Different Screen-Time Rules

So yes, there are different rules for eating for the two sets of kids. Our approaches to video games also vary. What we have decided to do is be firm in our family values of respect and striving for kindness. We don’t always hit a home run, but we aim to honour these values and not focus too much on how many cookies were consumed. 

I share this not to expose my failings as a parent, nor to complain about the different sets of rules or the approach to chores in our household. Rather, I want any other parents out here who struggle with this same issue to know that they’re not alone. Both blended and non-blended families can face a trying time in having fairness and equality amongst the children when it comes to helping out around the house, healthy eating and being kind, generous and respectful humans. What has worked for us is to commit to the areas that mean the most to us  — the big-ticket items, like how we treat each other — and let a few other things slide.

We’ll continue to take our lumps as a family, and keep trying.

Article Author Janice Quirt
Janice Quirt

Read more from Janice here.

Janice Quirt is a yoga teacher and freelance writer who lives in the beautiful hills of the Headwaters in Orangeville, Ontario, with her blended family of seven. With kids spanning a decade in age, there are always some shenanigans on the go, and she loves being in the middle of it all. Janice loves sharing nature, eco-living and new experiences with her family and friends, as well as a fine cup of coffee and a good book.

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