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When my family first became blended, my two daughters were the only children in the picture. I am remarried, and we have decided not to have more children. My ex and his wife, Molly, now have two kids of their own, ages one and two. People often label them half-siblings, which bothers me. I think that the extra word half in front of sibling detracts from who they really are to my daughters. They are their brother and sister, period. I will not be referring to them as half of anything.
How do you feel about the label half-sibling? Do you feel it detracts?
We all four co-parent the two girls. By co-parenting, I mean we discuss everything concerning the girls, and we talk issues out until we come to a compromise. While some families prefer to keep the parenting to the biological parents, I truly believe that the children’s’ stepparents belong in the parenting role. They do so much for the kids and are so involved in their lives that it would make no sense to exclude them. Also, the children benefit from all the parental figures working together.
When we initially began co-parenting, it was a bit awkward when we would all attend functions for my daughters and the babies were there. I am a baby-magnet, and they almost always notice me everywhere I go. My daughters’ siblings are no different. I was unsure of the etiquette—what was the politically correct thing to do when your ex-husband’s babies crawl over and grab your leg? At first, I tried to be polite, but did not pick up the babies.
As they have grown, they have come to know me. When I drop the girls off or pick them up, the two-year old runs to me, with his arms out. “Up, up, up,” he says. I pick him up. I play with him, I hug him, and he likes me. He cries when I leave and runs after me. I must also admit that I genuinely care about those two little sweeties. His mom Molly does not feel threatened or jealous that her babies like me. If she’s ever felt a twinge of discomfort over it, I wouldn’t know. She’s one of those amazing women who knows how to put the kids first.
Molly is teaching him to call me Mama Trish. Initially she was unsure what to teach him to call me, since he hears the girls call me mom. She did not feel Auntie worked, and she was worried that my name alone would be too confusing. So she landed on Mama Trish, which acknowledges my love for him and my role with his older sisters. She is raising her children to trust their sisters’ mother. What an amazing concept! They will not grow up hating me or resenting me. They will grow up feeling that their sisters are family, and that I am family.
How would you handle it if your child hugged your stepchild’s mom? How would you feel if your ex’s child hugged you?
Molly is very easy going, and she is not threatened that her children are comfortable with me. I have heard many other moms complain that their ex or his wife is uncooperative regarding becoming closer to their children’s siblings. Don’t let that discourage you. The only actions you can control are your own. They may never want you to become closer to their children, but you can still continue trying within the bounds of respect. I suggest sitting down and having a conversation about how you all view your family and relationships. Express that you know how important your children’s’ siblings are to you kids, and that you would like to make your situation as comfortable for all of the children as possible.
The same is true if your ex has stepchildren who your children adore, and whose mother is a part of all the children’s lives. As a divorced mom, you may be tempted to place a much higher priority on loving your biological children, keeping their step siblings and step-mom at a distance, and this is a natural inclination. But consider how happy your children will be if you embrace their step siblings and step-mom as family.
I think it is difficult enough to raise well-rounded, healthy children, without all of the extra drama that can arise from one of the parents not cooperating. The greater the number of siblings on each side, the more complicated it can become. The children from the previous marriage are sometimes treated differently by extended family. There can sometimes be resentment between siblings, and resentment toward the stepparents from the children of the previous marriage. The new marriage can be in jeopardy if the issues are not resolved. If the children from the previous marriage do not have the same rules and punishments as the “half-siblings,” the parents can side against each another. The solution that has worked best for us is to actively co-parent as a foursome to diminish tensions between the children and to uphold each of the four parental figures in their roles.
Trish Eklund is taking a nontraditional approach to parenting children after divorce and remarriage. Raising her two daughters of ten and fourteen with her husband, ex-husband, and his wife, they consult one another on all parenting decisions. Trish has been featured on www.playground-magazine.com, and www.bigblendedfamily.com. She is a regular writer on www.herviewfromhome.com, writer and co-editor for Her View From Omaha. Follow her on Twitter: @trishiewriter, Google +, and Pinterest.