what it’s like merging two households: a tale of
coupling, co-parenting, and crap
This is where a small expert will live.
If you had told me six years ago that I would be married to another guy with a kid, I would have laughed and said, “hard pass.”
Having friends who had divorced parents growing up was painful to watch. Kids being torn between their parents, their parent’s new partner, their parents, and their new partner’s kids… family is chaotic and complicated enough as it is, and I did not want to make it harder for myself or Fox. I had it stuck in my head that dating someone with kids, man or woman, was not something I wanted. I was looking for a genuinely single partner. But the matter of fact was, finding someone who was on the same level as me, cared deeply about children, and had the potential to open their hearts to Fox was difficult.
So many single, childless, men and women are exactly that…single! Single mindset vs. single parent mindset is two entirely different worlds.
In one world you’re up late, leaving the house when you want, working harder than ever, and on a looser budget. In the other world you’re up late with fevers, sleepless kids, trying to find alone time, paying a babysitter so you can leave when you want, and on a budget tighter than Spanx.
Finding someone who could empathize with all of that and be okay with canceled outings or more nights in than out was impossible. So, after much protesting, I decided to open my horizons and be willing to date someone with kids. It didn’t take long after that mindset shift because three months after saying “okay” to the potential of more kids (not of my own) I found Ted.
The moment I saw him standing near the bar at 12 West, I knew it was going to be him. He was tall, handsome, and let me buy the first round of drinks. We talked for hours, and at the end of the night, he gave me more compliments than I had ever been given and was eager to see me … the next day. I liked him instantly. He made me more nervous than anyone ever had.
We went on three dates before he asked me to be his girlfriend to which I replied, “YES. YES. Yes, of course, yes,” before he could even finish asking me. Our kids met on 4th of July 2018, we had our first dinner as the four of us a month later, and our trip to Flagstaff in September 2018 solidified my deep love for him and him for me.
For a few months, we would switch between one another’s homes with our kids taking on small roles with one another’s children and solidifying a stance on authority, care, and love. It was difficult at first because Fox was hesitant to accept Ted’s authority.
It’s confusing for kids to go from having one parent who dishes out all the authority and love and nurturing to a totally new person. When you meld with someone with kids, you’re not just learning to love your partner, you’re learning to love their kids, the extension of their heart. It’s normal for children to resist a new partner and question their presence. It’s normal for children to be more angry with you because there is someone new on their turf. It’s also normal for children to immediately bond with your new partner, to love them, and want them more, then flip a switch and decide to rebel against every word that comes from your partner’s mouth. That was my step-daughter. She is a beautiful, funny, wonderful girl, but damn, she stubborn!
Both Fox and my step-daughter were the opposite when it came to how to react and grow with Ted, and I. Fox is much more loving now, and our daughter is stubborn…but so am I.
Before we moved our families in together, the kids were instant siblings. I remember our daughter asking Fox, “Will you be my brother?” at Christmas time last year. It melted my heart and really made us all feel like it is right. That’s not to say though that every moment after that was perfect and loving. Our daughter is challenging at times, and Fox can be too, although rarer.
Moving in as quickly as we did was unplanned. I became very ill (still am) in April this year and was unable to care for myself and Fox consistently, and my business was beginning to fall apart. I tried everything I could to get better, be better, and towards the end of May, we decided that it would be the best move to move in together. I found a sublet for my apartment, packed up my place, and moved it all in.
Ted and I were both very excited and couldn’t wait to begin together forever. But once everything was in the house, I did my usual thing and began to organize and put everything away as fast as possible. Once everything was mostly assembled, I began incorporating my artwork and decorations into Ted’s. This is where our first fight started.
It was such a silly thing to be as angry as we both were. Ted did not like me taking the art down off the walls or shifting stuff on shelves. I just wanted to try and make his home my home too. It is hard to get past that in the beginning because for us, we had been single parents for six years. We were used to doing everything our way and never be questioned.
For him, having the woman he loves to come in and changing everything was hard. For me, having the man I love upset with me for blending everything together was hard.
We spent three days being mad at one another on and off. Yes, over hanging shit on the walls. Ridiculous. We know that now, and we even had a discussion about how stupid we were being…him more than me. We didn’t come to that conclusion on our own though. We had outside council from friends who had moved in together and experienced the same problems.
Having friends who can shine a light on the normalcy of blending lives together is terrific, and I highly recommend making sure you have someone you can talk to about all this. Your parents can only help so much because they’re always going to be on your side and see your side. You need someone who can take a look and be unbiased.
After the hanging art debacle, we had the summer to get acquainted with blending our homes, parenting styles, and schedule changes with other parents.
Oh yeah, there’s the “other parent” to discuss too.
You see, blending two households together isn’t just about the new partners and their kids, it’s also about the other parents. Ted and I both have troublesome exes to deal with. Doesn’t everyone to a certain extent, though?
When we began blending, Fox’s dad’s reaction was pretty straight forward, “okay.” His dad has never been involved in any decision making about Fox, and part of this relates back to my story, which is the first piece I wrote for this website. You can read that here.
Anyway, Fox’s dad was the natural part. Our communication has gotten to the point of complacency due in part to a “fire and blood” approach I took with him. In essence, I told him to shape up or ship out and never come back into Fox’s life. He decided to shape up and has been more involved in Fox’s activities and taking on a more parent-centric role (because that’s what Fox needs). He’s still not where I think he needs to be, but we’re getting there.
Our communication is far better than it was a long time ago, and a lot of that is due to my fire and blood. I don’t recommend my approach. What I DO recommend though is to find a method that works for you. Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing, do what works for you because at the end of the day the communication about your child’s life is between you, your partner, and your ex.
With one more part left in this blended equation, I want to preface with this. There’s no harder struggle than the struggle of coping with your child having a new woman in their life. It’s not to be sexist; it’s just human nature.
As women, we grow our child, we feel our child, and we bond with our child before anyone else does. As our children’s mother, now seeing a new woman come waltzing into their life, we become instinctively protective of them and sometimes to an unreasonable degree.
I remember when Fox’s dad had a new girlfriend. I didn’t even know about her until they had been dating for a year and the day I found out about her his dad announced them moving in together. I had no idea who this person was, and I still don’t. I hated her for no reason at first but stayed confident in the fact that whatever is going to be best for Fox is what needs to happen.
Fox never really talked about his dad’s girlfriend much. I didn’t even know her name until last year. They’ve been together for a while now, still not married, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is Fox has a second woman in his life that assumes a motherly role when he’s with his dad. That was hard to cope with for me. I kept thinking, “is he going to want to live with his dad over me one day?”
“Am I going to lose Fox to someone I don’t even know? To someone that is dating his dad?”
Because I know his dad and what he did to me.
“Was he doing it to her?
Did she even know the truth?
Did she care?
Why would she be with him?
He’s a bad person!”
It does not matter. Whatever the answers to those questions, is does not matter. They are together, and you just have to deal- I had to deal. Especially for the sake of Fox.
You cannot decide how your children will love your ex or the new person in their life. You kids get to decide that, and you have to deal with it. Plain and simple.
Now, back to mothers on mothers. I never thought I would become a stepmom. Growing up, I had this idea in my head that I would be a workaholic and successful for a few years, meet the right guy, and the right kids, live an undramatic life. But that didn’t happen. It never happens like that.
Life is messy and complicated, and you are going to be given what you need to grow and mature. In my case, it’s Ted’s ex.
There’s this horrible but also really great movie about being a stepmom starring Susan Surrandon and Julia Roberts. The film discusses the relationship between the mother and the stepmom and the emotional struggles each woman goes through as it pertains to the role of motherhood and the role of being a woman.
Navigating the delicate, walking on eggshells balance, when it comes to interacting or how to interact with the other mother is so fucking hard. At times I feel like I hold all the cards and others I feel they’ve been ripped from my hands.
Now, there is a BIG difference between learning to mother/stepmom when you’ve had your own kids and learning to become a stepmother with no birth experience.
As I mentioned, the bond between a mother and the child she gives birth to is undying. Having a child of your own is literally seeing a piece of your heart walk around outside your body.
When you have another woman, who doesn’t have the same connection with your child come into their life and assume the role of mom #2, it’s painful. You ask yourself all the questions I asked myself, and if you’re lucky, you are offered an olive branch by that other mother.
I was not fortunate enough to have that offered in my case, and I knew to go into this marriage and relationship with Ted and our daughter, that no matter I how I felt about our daughter’s mother I would want her to tell me about her daughter.
Each parent’s perspective on their child is different, and when you come into a new partnership that needs to be acknowledged.
There is no proper etiquette for interacting with your partner’s ex. There are assumptions, demands, and a lot of negative communication. In our case, a lot has been assumed about me based on the only communication about me she gets, which is from her daughter and sometimes Ted.
Up until we moved in together, I did not assert myself into the communications and ongoings of Ted and our daughter’s mom. I listened, supported Ted, and offered counsel when asked. Once we moved in together, that changed. Because our relationship changed. I needed to be more informed of our daughter’s schedule, who is in her life, what’s happening in her mom’s life and how that will affect our daughter, among other things.
When there are multiple parents involved, communication needs to be crystal clear. It will get muddied from time to time, but as the other mother, we are expected to “know our place” and not get an opinion on our new child’s life. That doesn’t work for me. That doesn’t work for any stepmom. More importantly, that doesn’t work for the children involved.
Kids need and crave engaged and connected parents – and that includes step parents. As much as the ex protests, my involvement will not wain. I will always be there for our daughter, I will always sacrifice as much as I can for the betterment of our daughter – just like her mom would. Becoming a stepmom is like watching a piece of your heart that broke off re-grow and heal and become one with you again. When I look at our two children, I see two different parts of my heart walking outside my body. I love them as much as the other and in different ways.
I firmly believe helping the mother understand how you, as the stepmom, feel about their child is essential in creating a basis for understanding.
Being as I was once the mom that said, “They will never be the real mom. How dare they assume that” guess what? Stepmoms who have kids of their own do not assume that. We understand EXACTLY what every mom goes through when a new woman comes into the picture. It hurts, and it scares us.
So knowing all of this, I offered our daughter’s mom an olive branch. At first, Ted offered it to her. She rejected and assumed that I would take anything she says to use it against her and everything terrible mothers imagine the other mother doing.
Saw that coming.
Instead, I hand wrote her a note:
I know Ted had mentioned my offer for you and me to meet up and talk about (our daughter) together. I understand that you are not interested at this time.
I was once a single mom just like you, struggling and trying to find my way. I understand how hard it is to be a single mom, more than a lot. From what I understand, we’ve been through similar life experiences, and I want to respect that as you would for me.
I do know what it is like for another woman to be involved in your child’s life. When Fox’s dad had a new girlfriend, I struggled with that, and it hurt a lot. I understand more than a lot of people what you might be going through.
My offer still stands. I would like to meet up, just you and I, to learn about (our daughter) from your perspective. What she loves, doesn’t like, and is interested in. You are her mom, but I am also here and want what is best for Arya.
Whether it’s today, tomorrow, or three years from now, when you’re ready, I am here to talk.
Maybe I was overstepping my bounds. But again, I need to do what works for me and my household. Coming together to meet over common ground is what works, it’s what’s best for not just our daughter, but my husband, my son, and our future children.
Conflict in parents carries over to children. For every negative feeling we have as parents about the ex or the other parent, it is taken on by our children. There’s nothing we can do other than to communicate with each other and come together for our children’s sake.
Circling back to that movie I mentioned earlier. The two women start out with the mother hating the stepmom, refusing to give the stepmom a chance to be there for the kids. She undercuts, undermines, and rejects every attempt by the stepmom. You know what happens?
It causes riffs between the parents and the kids, between the stepmom and the kids’ dad. It’s not until Susan Surrandon’s character faces death that she sees the light and understands how vital the stepmom is to her kids and will be to her kids when she’s gone.
Why wait until death to come together for the better? Why not make life enjoyable and show your children what true love and respect are?
Merging households is complicated and is pretty shitty from time to time. There are many, many moving parts, many emotions to manage, and many schedules to orchestrate. When you merge two households, you’re combining more than just the people who will live inside the home.
Although it may not be easy, we as adults, need to put our feelings aside and come together for our kids. I know first hand how difficult it is. There will be days where you feel you come in second, or days where you feel like nothing is going right, and there may be days where you feel like everything is perfect.
No matter what kind of day it might be for you, lean on your partner, lean on a friend, and love your kids.
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