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September 12, 2021

Blending Families—Deliciously smooth, or a catastrophic Mess?

For two years my partner and I lived in the same house with our respective offspring and tried our best to create a “blended family.”

It has been like trying to mix oil and water.

Finally, we have accepted that the stress this created for everyone needed to end. Luckily, she has a house of her own not too far away that she and her son are going to move back into, and for now we are going to try “living together, apart.”

We always knew that it was going to be challenging for us all to share a home, as my teenage son didn’t get on well with her similarly aged boy—they are like chalk and cheese when it comes to preferences and temperament.

There was also constant tension between my stepson and myself, which escalated to the point where it was starting to seriously get me down, and I knew we had to make a change.

I understood why he wasn’t particularly friendly toward me, after all, I had seriously diluted the amount of maternal attention he was getting. Knowing that many stepfathers have had similar experiences didn’t make it any easier to cope with, or resolve.

The differences in our parenting styles were impacting our situation too.

There was no doubt in my mind that in many ways my partner has been a fantastic mum—she has nurtured and cared for her son amazingly well. But I believe that a growing boy also needs a male in his life who can provide boundaries and challenge some of his self-centred assumptions. This can help him become more confident in relating to other people, as well as to respect himself and others, and to feel at ease when he goes out into the big, and sometimes harsh world.

Every child needs to learn how to cope with frustration, to be happy even when others are the centre of attention, and to feel loved despite being denied what he thinks he wants. I have always resisted buying things for my son as a way of connecting with him, in the hope of raising him to be a man who gets his self-esteem and identity from his actions and relationships, rather than from possessions.

Without this kind of “growing up,” a boy may maintain his child-like sense of entitlement and an emotional immaturity that would surely create difficulties in his future relationships.

As the father of a teenage son, having also been a teenage son, I offered what I thought would be useful support with parenting her son. When she seemed to reject the possibility that I could offer any insights that would be helpful to them both, it was hard not to take it personally.

Of course, I’m not an expert, and I certainly haven’t got everything right with my own son, but the feeling of rejection by her was an echo of how I had felt growing up in my own family. It made it especially hard for me to feel loved and respected by her, as a person, and as a man.

This tension between my partner’s natural wish to soothe and nurture her son, and my wanting to support him in growing as an individual, and into a man, began to create deep divisions between us.

We had shared our thoughts, discussed our feelings and perspectives, and really listened to each other. In the end, I had to accept that my partner believed her relationship with her son was none of my business, and we agreed to take some time apart to re-evaluate how we could best move forward.

At this point, I still don’t know what the outcome will be, or what is in the best interests of everyone. I’m staying open to all possibilities, which is hard for a person like me, who likes to have at least some idea of what’s going to happen next.

But I’ve learned that sometimes it’s best to stop trying to manage things and wait to see what emerges. After that, as those magic three words express so well, “Time will tell.”

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