My blended family works together as much as we can, but like most children, my daughters tested their boundaries, and at times I wondered if our relationships would survive them.
My daughters seemed to genuinely like both Bob and Molly, my husband and my daughter’s stepmom. They were 7 and 10-year-old-children when they first met, just trying to get used to the concept of Mommy and Daddy no longer loving one another, and here came two new people. I tried not to communicate to the other household through my children, although it was impossible not to in the beginning. I have shared one of our major disagreements.
All kids have an adjustment period or initiation period with their parent’s new boyfriend/girlfriend when they test the waters to see what they can get away with. In our family, both Bob and Molly were new to the parenting role, with no children of their own from a previous relationship (Jeff and Molly now have two children). Let’s be real here, all children have the potential to be manipulative, and some more than others. I think as parents, it is imperative to be aware of that possibility. There are times when you have to evaluate what is best for your children, your marriage, you as an individual, and your family as a whole.
The first day Molly watched both girls alone, Ali (my oldest), chided Cami (my youngest). Cami’s jaw tightened, as Molly watched in horror. Cami’s arm raised above her head, coming down with a plastic, horse on the back of Ali’s skull. Blood gushed everywhere. Ali wailed and shrieked. Molly called Jeff (my ex), “You have to come home NOW! They are trying to kill each other! ”
One evening, Ali convinced Molly that I had allowed her to take sips of my wine, talking her into trying some of her mojito. Molly later shared the story with my ex-husband, and he explained I never allowed the kids to drink.
The first time Molly scheduled family pictures, everyone knew how important they were to her. Before the first session since the birth of her son, she contacted me to be sure everyone would be color coordinated. The girls looked beautiful in their colorful shirts, sitting next to their new, handsome brother, until Molly sat down. The instant Molly came into the shot, Ali’s smile disappeared. Every single picture with Molly and Ali in it together, Ali looks like her dog died. Molly was furious!
After her little brother was born, my oldest also decided to start telling all of her friend’s parents that her dad and stepmom forced her to get up in the middle of the night with him, which was of course untrue. It took us a while to figure out why some of her friend’s parents seemed to not want their kids sleeping over at her father’s house.
My youngest often told Molly she had no homework, and then snuck downstairs. She called my husband, whispering to him that her stepmom refused to help her. At first unaware of the situation, he would blindly help her over the phone, only to receive a phone call later explaining a different situation.
Both of my children still filter information, leaving out certain details, only telling one parent key pieces. Mom said we aren’t allowed to eat the food at your house on her days. Dad said it’s your turn to get us clothes. Mom said it was fine for me to go out this weekend (even if I said all parents needed to discuss), so is it fine with you? Bob said I could (if he said they could if certain chores were completed first, the second half would be left out). Mom said it was fine with her if I went alone with this strange boy I don’t really know in this empty parking lot, Dad. Children are not always the best at relaying information, which is why we always verify everything.
My dear, sweet daughters pulled a few fast ones over on my husband as well. My oldest discovered in the beginning he loved to cook, and he offered to make the girls whatever they wanted one evening. She ordered an elaborate meal in the middle of the work-week, knowing he worked overtime. We had been dating for a few months, but the kids had barely met him, and he wanted to impress them. Ali even included a chocolate cake for dessert, and Bob obliged. Impressing them both was important to him.
My youngest waved poopy underwear over his head after an accident from a day of the stomach flu, but the poor guy still didn’t run for the door. My oldest daughter convinced her sister to give all of her candy to her, Ali crushed it, and then attempted to sell it back to Cami -her own candy! All of this happened under my husband’s watch. They also both antagonized the step-parent just before their dad or I came home, and then behaved like angels as soon as we walked in the door.
One of the biggest reasons we decided to collaborate in parenting is if you allow them to, children will run the show. Children act out because their parents split up; and if given an opportunity they will take advantage of the situation not because they are bad kids, just because they can. We realized the more we communicated with one another, verifying information, and keeping as much consistency as possible between the two households, the fewer situations developed. It is important to be your child’s #1 advocate, and it often that begins with a united parental unit if attainable.
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” -George Bernard Shaw, Leadership Skills for Managers
Trish Eklund is raising her two daughters of thirteen and sixteen with her husband, ex-husband, and his wife. Trish is the owner and creator of Family Fusion Community. She is also the owner and founder of Abandoned, Forgotten, and Decayed, a photographic adventure in the abandoned and the forgotten. Trish’s photography has been featured on Only in Nebraska and Pocket Abandoned. Follow on Instagram, Facebook, Facebook-Family Fusion Community, and Pinterest. Trish is featured on The Mighty, Making Midlife Matter, and on The Five Moms. Trish is also regularly featured on Huffington Post Divorce, as well as Her View From Home. Trish also has an essay in the anthology, Hey, Who’s In My House? Stepkids Speak Out by Erin Mantz, which is currently available. The first book telling the story of blended family life from the perspective of the stepkids.