This is a four part series meant to be read in order. If you haven’t read Part I or II, follow the links below:
At this point, we are assuming you are in a relationship with children of your own, a partner with children or both. We will break this down into those these scenarios starting with you are dating someone with kids. If you have adult children of your own who are not immersed in your daily life, you can include yourself in this group.
We are also assuming you have survived the introductory phase and you are now sleeping over at your partner’s house with children home. However the first two stages unfolded, when you reach this point, problems can arise. Children, even those who seemed fine or even charmed by the idea of their parent being in a romantic relationship, may unleash some powerful reactions to this still newer situation. The most common reactions are unconscious jealousy and possessiveness of your partner. This is especially prevalent if your partner has not had any recent romantic relations the kids were aware of. It can manifest in the form of avoidance, reacting to hand-holding or kissing, or flat-out yelling. No matter the reaction, your response should be limited. Let your partner do the talking. Trying to convince a kid that everything is going to be OK or that you care about them isn’t going to win you any favors at this point. You can discuss strategies behind closed doors with your partner but voicing your opinion in the heat of the moment can be dangerous. Kids respond better long term to actions, not words. Staying steadfast in your neutrality, over time, sends a signal that you really do care about them and you respect their feelings even if they are negative towards you in a given moment.
If you are the one with kids and your partners does not have kids at home, chances are your partner is the one spending the night more often. So just like the first scenario, the kids are on their home turf setting the stage for some territorial battles involving jealously or possessiveness. So now it is you who must take control of the situation. It is up to you to communicate with your partner how to limit their interactions when conflict arises. If trouble begins brewing, if the kids are older, it is best to just be honest. Tell them how they are the most important thing in your life but you have wants and needs too. Tell them why you are in the relationship and what you are getting out of it. A happier Mommy or Daddy can lead to a happy environment for everyone. Tell them you understand how they feel and to help you by giving it some time. If the kids are younger, it is much harder to present any kind of logical argument to help assuage their feelings. Instead, stay engaged and set boundaries. During the time everyone is up, keep up the activities and keep your partner engaged in the activities whether it be throwing a ball around, a board game, or making dinner. Remember actions speak louder than words.
Lastly, if both partners have children you are involved in a situation where someone is packing up and spending the night in a different home. Let me start by advising you should not uproot the kids’ routines much at all. If you and your partner have weekends off only, sleepovers should be mostly limited to weekends. If things have gone well on weekends, you may consider introducing a weeknight sleepover possibly once a week. Even then, wait a few months before doing so. Most kids have band, choir, sports, theater, clubs etc. during the school year in which they are heavily involved. Add in showers, meals and homework and there isn’t much time left for integrating families early on.
When both partners have kids, you are introducing the highest amount of variables that can lead to conflicts. Again it will usually fall in the realm of jealousy and possessiveness. These can be dealt with as we discussed earlier. More difficult, though, can be the conflict between the two groups of kids. They might start playing favorites, there could be yelling or even physical altercations. The first thing to do in any of these situations is to step in and break it up. Let each “side” air their grievance and then separate them. The partner of each child should then remove their kids from the situation and speak to them privately. You know your kid better than anyone so I’m not going to break down how to resolve each scenario. But once the altercation has been discussed with each kid by their respective parent, you should go right back to integrating the kids and see if you get a better response. If that fails and the conflict is still spiraling of of control, it may be best that the visiting parent and kids leave for the evening. Do not access blame on any one kid; simply explain that it is time to go. You can then later discuss with your partner how best to deal with the situation for the future.
Remember, too, your kids are a mirror for you. If you are healthy and happy, chances are your kids will reflect that. So if you are experiencing conflict in trying to integrate families, remember it all starts with you. Keeping calm and focused and logical is paramount. If your kids starts mouthing off about how much they hate your partner, it is natural to take it personally if you are in love. Don’t. Kids are masters of both truth and manipulation. By standing your ground and remaining benignly detached to the individual conflicts and staying communicative will usually, in the end, win out.