Brady Bunch Best Practices?
February 29, 2020 1:52 AM   Subscribe

You are/were a parent or child in a "blended family" -- can you please share your tips/tricks, dos/don'ts, or pleasant/unpleasant surprises? Also, what does an Only who has been parenting an Only need to know about co-managing a household with more than one kid?

Partner and I have been together a few years -- we met after we each divorced. Our relationship is SUPER healthy. Communication is great. We are both in therapy. We know our baggage and are doing the work to unpack it. We have each other's backs. We are deeply committed for the long term. We made the decision to move in together after lots of consideration and discussion.

I have 1 kid, partner has 2 kids, all close in age (late grade school). All of them get along wonderfully, in pairs and as a trio. They all appear to enjoy spending time with the "other" adult. They have all expressed excitement about the idea of us living together.

Other important details:
- My kid and I will be moving into partner's house.
- Each kid has/will have their own room.
- As our respective custody schedules proceed, our household will vary among no kids, just partner's kids, just my kid, or all the kids, making schedules and routines hard to pin down in advance.
- Money questions are already comfortably sorted.
- Lawyer will be consulted for any needed legal advice.

I know there's going to be plenty of stuff we'll just have to muddle through for ourselves, but I'm just hoping for any useful day-to-day insights from people who have actually lived this already. Thanks in advance!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Be really clear about treating the kids fairly and around chores/celebrations/custody situations .

The family I lived with (which was blended, I was kind of the foster extra, it's a long story) immediatly added me to the chore chart that rotated our chores weekly for each kid so we all did everything just at different times (note there was 8 kids in the home ranging in ages from 16 to 6 with 3 or 4 different custody arrangements). How things worked when the kids were there felt incredibly consistent . There was a big family calendar that everyone could look at to keep track of everybody and important things to know (x is not here today y birthday is in two weeks, when were we doing things together) and there was lots of communication between the kids and adults about how things were going and jealousy and concerns. It was a really really affirming place.

Starting new routines is hard and disruptive and it's going to take some adjustment even in a well functioning household. Some stuff just is annoying sharing a space! Figuring out out as you go will be ok. Having clear ways to bring up disagreements and to talk what is and isn't working is important. There were some akward conversations when I moved in about boring but potentially embarrassing stuff like laundry because it had just been done differently and I needed to know what to do there.

There was built in family time for each kids for one one one time with parents. It wasn't often, but it was clearly scheduled for each kid which was nice and thoughtful. We had scheduled everybody together time which usually was around a TV show or game or church activity. Honestly it was so so so many miles better than my biological family and thoughtful and patient that I was super surprised about how well I adjusted to it.

Long story short putting in the effort to be transparent about routines and establishing rules about communication were really helpful in everyone getting their needs met in my blended family.
posted by AlexiaSky at 2:21 AM on February 29, 2020 [20 favorites]

It looks like you are doing really well. Obviously there will be challenges, that is life, but you have all the fundamentals right.
One thing to know ahead about parenting challenges: it's important that you state clearly that there are adults and young people, rather than parents and children. Your authority with your not-biological children comes from your adulthood, not your parenthood. You are there to keep them safe and healthy and happy, so you get to decide. I don't think it will be a big deal, but keep it in mind.
You are a family, just not a bio-family. So you do things together. Try to have at least one daily meal together where you can all talk about your daily experiences. Be polite and make sure the kids are polite. When you do the right thing, the right thing happens. I'm taking it for granted that you take holidays together and have other fun activities. It's the everyday life that builds the family.
If you are doing well with your ex's, having them in for birthdays and other celebrations is a good thing. It underlines that this is the reality of your lives and it is good.
posted by mumimor at 3:11 AM on February 29, 2020 [5 favorites]

Something to watch out for is the relatives that are not part of the household (grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc.). I am grandmother in a blended family. Two of the seven children have 5 grandmothers (it's complicated.) It was surprising to me to see that one of the grandmothers goes out of her way to favor her bio grandkids, and tends to ignore the other grandkids. Just keep an eye out for it and be ready. I go out of my way to treat each child the same, bio or not. The parents have taken me aside and thanked me for this.

One other thing I noticed is how different styles of parenting come into play. In my family, one parent thinks birthdays are A BIG FAT DEAL and the other thinks they should be kept low key. You will have to find a happy medium.

Also, money can be a big deal. Does he spend a lot of money on his kids but won't extend the same to your kids? Does his princess get whatever she wants, but your child doesn't? The fact that you have good communication will help you deal with this. Just be prepared.
posted by eleslie at 7:34 AM on February 29, 2020 [10 favorites]

This applies to adults as well as kids: when moving in with someone who’s already living there (as opposed to a brand new place to all), the people whom were there before tend to have an added annoyance at the newbies changing things. So prepare the 2 kiddos that things will change, a lot. Maybe tell them that they need to pretend it’s a brand new house. Because it is a brand new household.

Best of luck to you. Sounds like a wonderful situation :)
posted by Neekee at 7:37 AM on February 29, 2020 [4 favorites]

I'm giving the old-fashioned viewpoint. Marriage solidifies relationships. It gives the expectation that this is not a temporary thing.
The spouse is invited to weddings and funerals. The children are on the holiday gift list. The children will be living in this house, and graduating from this high school, with the same peer group, barring moves across country for better employment. There is permanency and consistency.
Yes, things can change. But marriage is a commitment, and it should be. This is when people stop wondering if they should include other members of a blended family, or whether it would be awkward because they moved out six months ago.

Get the legal paperwork about schools, emergency medical care, out-of-town situations for non-custodial children. This changes somewhat after a marriage, but get the legal paperwork, anyway.
Seconding that bio-grandparents expect to pamper their own. They expect other bio-grandparents to do the same. They may not have the resources to give all the kids personalized gifts, or time on the farm, or whatever.
Don't raise the expectation of "equal." It's not equal. Each child has their own unique blend of family connections, and that's fine.

In our family, we have one brother who has married three times, and has helped raise five children. The adult children get along well and continue to connect with each other (and with siblings from other parental relationships).
The main takeaway is that while parental values and expectations may be different, the children were always expected to be a part of the family that they were currently staying with, and to look out for each other.
As a result, the adults still are in contact with multiple siblings and the grandchildren get along, too, when they can be together.
posted by TrishaU at 9:46 AM on February 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

I was part of a blended family and my mom brought me and my sister into her husband's house with his kids. It was terrible. What happened with us:

*nobody ensured equity as far as gifts and money went. My stepfather gave his kids cars, clothes and paid for their college, he did not offer this to me and my bio-sister. The reasoning was that we had a dad who should be paying for these things.

* I had been in a small apartment where we all shared space, but once we moved in with him and his kids, there were all these "for stepdad only" things that I was not allowed to touch. So it never felt like home.

* Bedroom size ended up mattering. His kids had nice rooms; me and my sister had a really janky closet that was turned into a bedroom.

* My mom ended up doing all of the traditional women's work and emotional labor, and that meant coming home and seeing her cooking and cleaning for him and his kids, and they never had to help so my sister and I did, and it made us really mad.

* be incredibly aware of who has access to the big tv and stuff like that. It may seem silly but my steps and stepdad had control of the tv and we were just expected to go along with whatever they wanted to watch.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 10:21 AM on February 29, 2020 [9 favorites]

Just coming here to say that kids and adults can get along great prior to cohabitation but cohabitation can bring additional challenges, end of the "honeymoon" period, and all sorts of unexpected reactions. Just be prepared for a period of upheaval.

As someone raised as an only, who has an only, and sometimes has 4 additional children in the home, it can be very overwhelming. It can be very noisy. The amount of chores explodes, so it's important that everyone be as responsible for themselves as they can be.

I was used to offering quality attention and this is harder to achieve in a larger family where it becomes more about group activities and group attention. In larger families, the feelings of an individual person whether adult or child can appear to be taken less seriously, from my perspective. I was taken aback at how kids feeling upset were basically left to figure it out for themselves. Some of that may be due to different parenting philosophies, but I feel at least some of it is also a consequence of larger family culture.
posted by crunchy potato at 10:30 AM on February 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

I will also add, that it is important to negotiate some changes in the environment to help the "visitors" have a sense of ownership. Those that already live there should be willing to accept changes in decor, etc., that signal allowing for additional opinions and preferences to exist in the space. Or perhaps use it as an opportunity for everyone that WANTS to be able to redecorate their personal space to be able to do so.

My stepdaughters' mother has a locker system in her entryway where each kid keeps their backpacks, coats, etc., and it seems to make mornings and homework much less cumbersome. (She has 3-6 children in her home at any given time.)

Consider how you will handle items that for whatever reason need to be reserved for one person. For example, I have to eat a special diet for medical reasons, so what do I do about the ridiculously expensive rice that my stepdaughters will want to eat because it looks cool? I don't know, honestly, but it's a thing that might come up whether with a child or an adult.

Be ready for the other family to have a subculture and don't fight it. Be ready for them to spontaneously go into their history before any of you got there. Do your best to accept this, because it is important for the kids to also relive the time before your family joined them.

When either adult will be away, it is very important that they communicate to their own biological children their expectations of behavior toward the step parent. I believe I was lucky in that my steps are very easy to be around, but I am sure it helped in the beginning that my husband said on his way out, "listen to crunchy potato just as well as you would listen to me or your mother because she is the parent while I am gone." At the same time, be mindful that some topics or disciplinary needs are better handled by the bio parent, and respect this.

If possible, have a space just for you (even just a closet). As someone raised as an only parenting an only, I really really miss having my own space when my home is full of people that I love. I feel a bit trapped with people everywhere, and having a retreat space makes it easier to cope with the extra everything that comes with having so many more people around than I'm used to. I show up better as a wife, mother and stepmother if I feel like I can get a breather when I need it. If you can't have a space, then don't feel guilty about finding time to also take your bio kid out one on one now and then. Bio families breaking away to connect is important in a blended family, because there's a sense of relaxation amongst the people you've known your whole life that is rarely entirely achievable in a blended environment. YMMV.
posted by crunchy potato at 10:43 AM on February 29, 2020 [3 favorites]

Adjust your grain of salt accordingly as I am a spinster with a cat, but I just wanted to share a cautionary tale from a dear friend's experience. Insufficient planning and communication about the family vacation and custody arrangements resulted in some kids getting to go on the family trip to Walt Disney World while some kids didn't. She didn't think it would be a big deal but it totally was.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:29 AM on February 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

A cautionary tale... In my family, a Brady Bunch situation emerged out of a relationship that started because all kids participated in the same quasi-dangerous sport. The Bradys moved into a new house big enough for all. Everything seemed to be going great, both on a day-to-day basis and even when crises ensued, like when a child from Bio-Family A wrecked Parent B's week-old new car. Chores were distributed fairly, a money sharing plan was in place, all ex partners and grandparents adapted and treated all children equally, kids attended each others' sports events, etc. All kids and parents seemed to do well in any combination. Both parents felt confident leaving the other in charge of their bio-kids and were able to take on more work responsibilities and personal activities with another adult to pick up the slack.

What busted it all up, overnight? A child from Bio-Family B was injured in the sport. Parent B was on the scene, rejected the coach's advice, decided that the injury wasn't serious, and refused further medical attention. Parent B noted that Little B claimed to be ok and also expressed concerns about cost to Parent A; one of the Little As had rung up big ambulance and hospital bills following an injury and the prospect of huge unreimbursed medical expenses loomed large. Parent A had not seen the accident but interpreted Little B's subsequent behavior as evidence of concussion or worse. Over the next 2-3 days, Little B did not improve and Parents A and B hardened their positions. Ultimately Parent A was proven correct: Little B had suffered a mild but still serious TBI made worse by the delay.

Parent B was devastated, filled with remorse and vowed to be more cautious should a similar event occur. Nonetheless, Parent A never regained faith in Parent B's judgement. Parent A soon concluded that Parent B could not be trusted to make good decisions, potentially with catastrophic outcomes. Parent A chose not to put any of the Little As in the position where B might need to make a significant decision on their behalf and exited the relationship. The fallout was enormous.

Perhaps the relationship could have survived this rupture, but there were several escape hatches that made the break up easier. Parents A and B weren't married. Moreover, each still owned their original houses, so it was easy for the A family to move out.

TLDR: The moral of the story is to be really clear about expectations regarding the medium difficult decisions with a lot of ambiguity, not just the extreme cases of dire emergency where action is obviously required or the daily grind of household chores, and homework supervision. If Little B's injury had been either more obvious or less severe, they would probably be together to this day.
posted by carmicha at 1:39 PM on February 29, 2020 [2 favorites]

I only recently learned that my step-father was probably not considered my legal guardian, and may not have been allowed to sign some of the things he did when I was a child. This is a non-issue, since I am now an adult, and he wasn't up to anything problematic. I'm thinking of some permission slips, and the odd doctor's forms. Still, it might be worth consulting with a lawyer to see what legal limitations you two will face with regards to the other partner's kids. You may be able to obtain POAs that circumvent these restrictions, or you may just be better for knowing what they are.
posted by Zudz at 11:17 AM on March 2, 2020

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