Blended Bliss: We are Family - The Kids, the Ex, New Love and You
There can be happy parenting after a long marriage break-up - so long as we revisit our notion of family and put the child first.
We are Family
By Margie Thomson
Yes, there is such a thing as happy parenting after a long marriage break-up - so long as we revisit our notion of family and put the child first.
Twelve-year-old Maximillien sits comfortably on the large, cushiony sofa in the cosy and slightly shambolic lounge of the house he shares with his mother Monica and step-father Colin. So far, so ordinary. But would it surprise you to learn that, on this chilly late-winter evening, he is happily sandwiched between both his step-father and his father Phillippe, leaning up against first one then the other, and seemingly perfectly relaxed?
Tonight Phillippe is just visiting for the purposes of the interview. But he's often here, popping in and out to see Max as his demanding chef's job allows; at one point he even had a house key. It all seems very rational and grown-up - that the adults, all three, can put aside whatever issues they may have and rebuild a new sense of family, for the sake of a child.
"It works because it's easier for it to work than for it not to," Colin says. In a pragmatic sense he's right: this kind of shared parenting gives both parents a break, and time to recharge the batteries with their new partner - something nuclear families often struggle with. It also means there are three [or four] people to shared the load, help with homework and, on those rare occasions when Max needs firm guidelines, he can feel the full weight of those three pairs of eyes upon him. There are definitely times when a child might see having three active parents as a disadvantage.
One suspects that their particular kind of inclusive family circle is rare. While civility is by no means uncommon between separated birth parents, this sense of entanglement, of completely shared agendas, is rare enough that people constantly ask the three to explain how they do it. The way they tell it, it's pretty obvious and easy - it's just a matter of putting Max first, but also acknowledging that the situation they are in is something different fom a 'traditional' nuclear family.
"The family circle must increase because there are more people in your life," Monica says. "Those old relationships aren't severed because of our newer relationship. The sense of family is greater than the relationship between the couples. It's a question of finding the maturity within yourself. Our relationship gives each of us a break and gives us strength. Why not share the parenting if you have that trust and you want to see your child flourish?"
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Breakout quotes (expanded) from the article:
Margie Thomson saidShared parenting gives both parents a break, and time to recharge the batteries with their new partner - something nuclear families often struggle with.
Dr Kerry Gould saidOne of the things that's different in re-partnered families is that there is more competition for love and time resources. Kids notice how muc of the biological parent's time they're getting, and of course it's less than before and they quite understandably can feel enormous loss. Where the step-parents foster the relationship between the biological parent and the child, when they push them together a lot more, I think that work well.
Dr Kerry Gould saidKids desperately love their birth [biological] parents and time wit the step-parent is non-equivalent. When an adult re-partners, they are so enamoured of their new partner that they generlise that love - 'I love this person and you should too'.
Jan Rodwell's book "Repartnered Families" (Penguin Books) is available for NZ$25 from 'The Women's Bookshop' on Ponsonby Rd, Auckland, or from Jan Rodwell [enquire via email] or PO Box 46-247, Auckland.
Kerry Gould's DVDs, containing interviews with New Zealand parents and children who've experienced separation, are available via the (NZ) Department of Justice's free "Parenting through Separation" program. Contact the Department of Justice in your area for information.