“A Room Of Her Own:” Or How To Try To Create That Impression in the Blended Family, Part II

Posted on February 7, 2012 by

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file0001544615482Not being an interior designer, nor in possession of the perfect algorithm for creating peace in public spaces among warring step-sibs, I can just suggest a few ideas as you work together to share space among your newly-created family.

But I do know that everyone needs their space.

I’m reminded of the story of Ronda and Rene, whose parents I saw in therapy as they married each other and moved into the next, happy phase of their life, dragging their children miserably after.

Ronda’s parents and Rene’s parents had always been close, but it hadn’t worked out exactly that way for the girls. The same age and grade in a small private high school, Ronda and Rene had a tepid relationship at best, and awkwardly navigated the waters of sharing teachers, friends, the lunchroom, the bus, gym, music–everything. Or at least it felt that way–until they realized how good they’d had it.

For things took a distinct turn for the worse, the girls thought, when their parents divorced, and, in an act that served as fodder for gossip in the community for years, Rene’s mother, Rina, married Ronda’s father, Ron, who gained custody of his children, and took Ronda along for the ride.

Now the girls shared a bunkbed, a phone, an SAT tutor, meals, parent night at school–and their parents. Left only with their lockers to truly call their own at school, the girls warred about the privelege of privacy at home–and caused significant wear and tear on their parents’ marriage.

So. . .hopefully you haven’t married your closest friend’s husband, but you’re still going to want to make sure that space can be shared succcessfully between your spouse’s children and your own. What can you do to ensure that your children and your step-children can blend together into one house, without outright warfare?

I might suggest that you get all the members together, and have a family powwow. In this meeting the kids, depending on their ages and ability to do this, work together to figure out the rooming arrangements for themselves.

Let your teens do it much as college roommates do, asking each other, “What space do you need? Where can you laptop go? How will we fit all of our Taylor Swift shirts into the same closet?”

You’ll be amazed what they can do, and if their plans don’t work out, they’re more motivated to go back to the drawing board and try again, as opposed to blaming the parents, which is nearly inevitable if rooming fiats are dictated to them.

If there are rooming fights and children don’t agree, know that that is normal, and accept it as such, rather than feeling put-upon that you’re the only American household re-enacting the no-love-lost relationship between Gorbachev and Reagan (and weren’t they just fighting about ownership of space on a larger scale, if we think about it)?

Key here is that the new couple doesn’t let an unhappy child go to her own parent to triangulate that parent into a fight with his new spouse or his new step-child.

Keep having the kids work it out–do your absolute best to stay out.

Coach your kids (whether of not you believe it, whether you haven’t seen your daughter, who takes after her mother completely, share anything of hers since the days long ago when she gave her younger brother all the green Mike and Ikes she abhors after a Halloween haul [now she barters: his reds for her greens]): “I believe you know how to work it out. I believe you understand space. If you have a concept of how to move things around to make it better for yourselves, then come to us for practicalities.”

“I’ve got it, Mom! HIS kids can go in THAT part. . . “

If there’s tremendous hurt and anger and jealousy, this is going to be an unpleasant challenge. But trying to work out the step-siblings’ issues by struggling with your own spouse will surely cause a rift in your new marriage, and one that will be difficult to heal.

If it comes to the point where the children are so furious with and resentful of each other that they cannot talk to negotiate the space, then a professional needs to be called in to mediate–not a parent.

One of the essentials in making this sharing of space work is that the children who aren’t there all the time have a space that is their own in their non-residential home. They should not live out of a suitcase when they come to visit, but rather should have a designated area where they can unpack, or, better yet, leave certain items from visit to visit. Their stuffed animals or books or whatever makes them feel at home and secure should be waiting for them–not moved by the children who claim territorial rights to the home as soon as the the door almost hits them on the way out as they return to Mom’s. They have to have a space carved out for them in that home–and it’s theirs, and it stays theirs, even when their bodies have shuffled on out, leaving behind, if they’re like most kids, one sneaker, that day’s lunch, and, it goes without saying, homework, a glove–and an iPod charger.

Those children’s residential home?Same rule applies. When Mom’s kids go to Dad’s house, they need to know that their stuff will be there, waiting for them, so they can leave and feel safe about their presence and importance in their primary home. If their books, favorite Elmo, or study pillow are moved every time they head out for Dad’s, the children will feel like they don’t really live anywhere.

And, yes, harsh as this may sound, and unpleasant as it is, even if the children leave their things messy, Mom shouldn’t move their stuff. The rule should be that their possessions will be there when they get back. Deal with the cleanliness issue some other way–not at the expense of your child feeling adrift in the world.

And, finally, when I discuss carving out individual space, I include the new couple in that, too. The parent and step-parent also need a space that belongs just to them. No matter what practices you got into during your single days post-divorce and pre-marriage (kids study until they drop in Wife 2′s room! Dad goes indigenous and sleeps with all the kids in a Family Bed!), it must be clear that the new couple can’t have their children or step-children on top of them every minute. Adults need to establish some alone time with their new spouses–and that means time where children must actually knock (shocking, right?)before coming into private adult space.

If Stalin and Roosevelt, two characters who would have been only too pleased to see the borscht go down the wrong pipe of their fellow ‘ally,’ could more or less carve out their own space on the playing map of the world, to which each, apparently, felt an irregular sense of ownership, your children and your step-children, too, with your sympathy and guidance, can find places to lay their weary heads–and charge their latest Macs.

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