Question: I recently moved in with my boyfriend, he’s got two children from his previous marriage 8 year old son, and 5 year old daughter, and I have 2 children from mine 6 year old twins boy/girl. The other parent in both instances has custody, and we have the children every other weekend, and Wednesday nights at our house. Recently we had our first weekend with all four children at our home, and we’ve discussed buying two bunk beds for the one bedroom which they’ll all share on these weekends. My concern is that after this weekend, we had a long talk because his ex basically said my kids should not be in the house the same time her kids are, and we should gradually introduce them and should not do a sleepover like this again. My concern is I don’t want my children to feel uncomfortable in my home, but the whole “this is our room now” seems to have set off his ex, and I don’t want his children to feel invaded either. Can you help? My solution of spending Wednesdays at my ex with my children, and gradually introducing them will somehow make them feel unwelcome in my home, I need help!
Answer: Shared parenting can get very complicated with numerous conflicting adult opinions and uncertain strategies for decision making. Who should get to make decisions? When? And for whom? As you can imagine, there are no rules about how to do this “the right way.”
Ideally, you want to include everyone in the communication process, giving everyone the chance to voice their concerns and their observations on-behalf of the children. Set and respect boundaries for one another’s decision-making. Try to agree on mutual goals: that the children develop deep personal relationships with both parents, that the children learn to adapt to differences and respect different points of view, and that the children feel welcome and safe in both households.
I encourage you (and/or your boyfriend) to express your interest in building a family relationship to include your children and your boyfriend’s children. Explain how this will be beneficial to the children. Address any possible concerns by your boyfriend’s ex-wife that his children might be treated less well than your own children.
Consider how things went when all four children were together. Did you notice any additional transition issues for the children? How did they get along with each other? Was there a balance of time spent together as a new family and time spent one-on-one? The quality of children’s experience should be a prime factor in deciding the sleepover arrangements.
You and your boyfriend may discover that there are transition issues to be addressed. In that case, discuss with the children your goal of family weekends. Give them one-on-one time to express their feelings and reservations. Listen openly to feedback from your boyfriend’s ex-wife – she may be hearing or observing things that the children do not express in front of you. Then talk to the children about to help them to feel welcome in your home. Obstacles, both real and perceived, should be addressed as best as possible given the situation.
Remember that children learn their attitudes from the adults around them. The children deserve to trust and respect all significant adults in their lives and this can only be learned from the trust and mutual respect that the adults show one another. You can’t always control what other people do and say but you can be a positive role-model who will create a positive environment for the children for many years to come.
Karen Deerwester, Ed.S.