“I like Mommy’s House better…”
Blended family struggles Vol.1
When my ex-wife came out four years ago, I knew MY world was never going to be the same, but I quickly realized that my children’s world was about to look very different too. Gone was the dream of the “white-picket-fence-perfect-million-dollar family”. This odd idyllic image was to be replaced by pickups and drop-offs to two different houses, each with two different bedrooms, two sets of clothes, and two sets of toys.
This is the reality for many blended families, sharing the responsibilities of raising children (I hate the word ‘custody’ or ‘joint custody’). Unlike other divorce situations that are extremely bitter and/or nasty, ours has been an easier road (but not without our share of storms over the past four years). With any separation, it is critical to keep the best interests of the kids at the forefront of any decision making. One of the most challenging aspects of a ‘successful divorce with kids’ is shelving the personal emotions one might feel against their former partner. You must do what is best for the kids (sometimes perhaps through clenched teeth and bitter unsent texts) to minimize the collateral damage to the innocent children, especially in the early days of the divorce, when emotions are much more raw.
Given our work and life structure right now, we arrived at a working separation agreement where the children would be with me Monday to Friday and with their mother Friday to Monday morning. These ‘transition’ days can sometimes carry a little sadness and anxiety (and that’s just for us parents). While mom and I share parenting values and a friendship, within these two different living arrangements, there are also two different parenting philosophies. Behaviours and choices that are permitted or happen in one house, do not happen in the other. And the kids know it!
Mom and I have open dialogue about issues and challenges with our son and daughter (now 9 and 7) and share ideas on what is working, but of course, I can only control what happens in this house (ha, ‘control’, what an illusion!)
At this house, during the busy week of activities and school, the kids have unpaid chores and expectations of helping out, firm bedtimes, and homework. We need that structure to survive and thrive. We all need to pitch in because there are three extra people at this house (my new partner, her son, and our new baby). At mom’s house, because her time is largely on the weekends, there is more freedom and ease with time with later bedtimes, paid chores, and increased screen time.
“I like Mommy’s house better!” is a line we do hear occasionally, and while it naturally stings a little (because I think I’m super cool), it is not powerful enough to warrant change. From the outside, one house IS more fun. If I was a kid, I would prefer the house with little homework or responsibility.
However, in our house, we are looking long term – we believe we are teaching life lessons, work ethics, and how to be a good person. And I am certain; mom feels the same way about her rules. I don’t think the kids tell me they like Mommy’s house better to hurt me. Usually they say it out of frustration or when they are called on their poor behaviour or choices.
A variable worth noting is that in our busy home with four children, there are two parents who can divide and conquer as well as support and bolster each other when disciplining the children. My ex-wife did have a partner for awhile for ‘backup’, but she is now parenting alone and as hard as it is to admit, my children do take advantage. My son, who is the oldest, has much more decision making power at mom’s house than here and who doesn’t love power?
I guess we could cave and try to win the “Our house is better” title, but we believe in the long term benefits of our philosophy; doing what is best for the kids. By her own admission, mom wants to “reel it in” and have more structure on weekends and bring the houses into more alignment of expectations and responsibilities.
On transition days for children of divorce, there is definitely a “changing of regime” that kids may find initially confusing (Who is in charge? Which rules are in play?), but children are smart and learn to adapt to whatever regime is “governing”. However, birthday parties and school events, where both mom and I are in attendance, can prove challenging and almost funny as they try to ‘work the room’ to get the answer they want from one of us. Thankfully, we are usually on the same page, “No, your mom is right, cotton candy is not a good choice right before bed!”
As any separated parent with shared access can tell you, it is not easy navigating a constantly changing landscape of life and co-parenting. There are high highs and low lows. Single parents may find new partners, which can have its own unique challenges for children and families to navigate. New jobs, partners, and schedules can all wreak havoc on the fragile family norm between two houses. As children get older, their needs will change and one living arrangement might benefit them more.
TAKEAWAY POINT – If you are in a blended family situation and enjoy shared responsibilty for raising your children, try to keep your values and the big picture in mind. Your house may not be the fun house, but it may be the stability and predictability of your house that forms a solid foundation for your children. Strive for open communication with your ex-partner about the rules in each of your houses. Each household does not have to be a carbon copy of the other, but the more similar the expectations and rules, the easier life can be for the children as they go from one home to the other. It is not a competition for who can be the fun house, rather a coordinated effort to raise happy, respectful, confident, resilient children.
If you are a blended family with older kids, does it get easier?
Any tips you can pass along for navigating “I like Mommy’s/Daddy’s house better?”
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Until next time…