One of the challenges of a (part-time) blended family dynamic is the many stakeholders and family members who want to be involved. My partner and I are both very lucky to have nearby families who want to be a regular part of not only our lives, but monsters too. In many respects, we are extremely fortunate to be in this situation – it means we both have good support networks we can rely on and we’re never short of a helping hand.
However, because our time with monster has always been limited, trying to fit everything and everybody in can be a nightmare! His grandparents have always wanted to spend time with him as often as they can – at least every fortnight, which is great, except that we only have him to stay every fortnight. For the first few years of our relationship, the vast majority of our time with monster was spent with other people too. In some ways, this was really good – our “Monster-time” was always very active, social and family-oriented, but it didn’t really give us (three) any time to develop ourselves as a family unit independent of everyone else.
If there is an “average” frequency for grand-parents, great-grand-parents or any other relative to see the kids, I’d love to know it, but everyone seems to be different in this way. When I was very young, my family moved across the country to a new area where we had no family – so I was quite used to seeing our extended family 3-4 times a year on average… that was normal for me. On the other hand, virtually all my partners family live in the same village he was born in, so growing up he saw his grandparents every week, although had a different relationship with his wider family, so normal to him is very regular visits. But in both these scenarios, we both lived with both of our parents full-time with unrestricted access, so even my other half spent a relativity low percentage of his time at home with the extended family.
With monster, if we spend a day with family – that’s potentially 50% of our parenting time with him that fortnight, which especially on a very regular basis feels a little high?! But then, to the grandparents, seeing the Monster once a month sounds nowhere near enough… its such a fine balancing act and a very difficult one to know where the priority should and does sit and who will be enforcing it.
Just to make things a little harder, we add the “step-family” into the mix, who of course I want Monster to have a good relationship with – we have children of a similar age on my side of the family which also makes this a little easier and a bit of a bigger motivation, especially from monsters point of view. But if we spend 50% of our parenting time with OHs family, and an afternoon (25%) with my family – then we are only on our own a quarter of the time we have with him – and a lot of that will probably be spent sleeping and washing etc!
We’ve had some pretty upsetting moments (for the grown-ups) which have brought to light that monster has not seen enough of his extended families – “Which one is great-nana?”, “What was that girls name?”, “Who is that?”. These innocent questions have, to me, been an alarm bell ringing out that we have the balance wrong somehow. The trouble is that to extend Monsters time to further family members, we have to take away from somebody else. We are certainly more protective of “our family” time… but it still doesn’t feel like we have it quite right.
I’m hoping that now we have structure to our time with monster, we will able to structure our time with family too and make sure that he gets the best of all worlds and all sides of his family. I’m not too optimistic and I know it will take some work and definitely a bit of trial and error and sometimes sacrifice of our time and the things we want to do with it…. but the most important thing we want is what’s best for Monster, so our only choice… keep trying!