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Split in two . . .

It’s your second marriage and suddenly you find yourself in a combined family. On the one hand your heart is breaking for the children’s new family setting. On the other hand there is your husband, who still has to be crowned as King of the household.

You do your best to respect your new husband as head of the house and making him your first priority. But then there are children who expect you to take their side in a conflict situation. This spiritual challenge within a combined family household never ends.

Sort your problems out directly

Tanja Conradie explains how they had to survive in a mixed family setup and ensure they maintain harmony. “I am 27 and my husband 47. Together we have seven children, with my husband’s eldest daughter just five years younger than me. I’m sure you can imagine how uncomfortable situations could become. And to top it all off, my parents in-law have been living with us for three years.

“We have one child together (three years old) and then I have two other children. 80% of the time there is a problem somewhere. As a result of our age difference we have different points of views. The best way to resolve our problems is to directly sort it out with the person involved in a proper manner without throwing your weight around.

“I teach my children to respect my husband. Sometimes I fail in my attempts to make him my number one priority, but we cling onto each other so much that we wouldn’t be able to cope without each other.

Deal with the trauma of the past

Prof. Wentzel Coetzer, a professor in practical theology at the North West University, says that in his practice he often has to deal with a family where each one in some manner has experienced a form of trauma and is emotionally wounded by events from their past, and as a result thereof, they all have to deal with unresolved emotions.

“Consequently the solution in such situations must firstly focus on family therapy, where each individual within the household works through his/her story and all aspects of heartache and loss and unresolved emotional baggage from the past is identified, thoroughly worked through and also prayed about while aspects such as mutual forgiveness are also high on the agenda,” says Wentzel.

With the average combined family a few more sessions is usually needed over a period of time before things can move forward in a positive manner. Over time, as the emotional stress levels starts to lessen and more understanding for each other’s pain and heartache kicks in, can one be focused on the role and the authority of the Word.

Gradually all the teenagers in the home will then also be more willing to, for example, accept a new father as the new spiritual head of the family and allow him to spiritually address them in their lives. It has to be on the condition though that he initially communicates to them the message clearly so that he can commit himself fully to try and understand the language of their hearts – only then will they allow him to lay down guidelines for them to follow. To try and reverse this order, usually just incites further rebellion and more challenging behaviour.

Erika Nell, a Clinical Psychologist from Pretoria, explains the role of the mother in such a mixed marriage as follows: “The mother runs the risk of becoming extremely exhausted when she feels she has to act as a constant buffer between her husband and children, and then still negotiate the inner conflict between her loyalties and responsibilities to both her husband and the children.”

Collective norms for the new family

According to Erika, it is very important that both spouses inhibit optimal communication standards so that they can efficiently communicate their needs to each other and that they can compromise and find a middle-ground.

“It is especially important that the couple are able to have a meaningful discussion and can create joint norms for the home. Furthermore it is important that the wife doesn’t leave the disciplining to her husband, especially in the beginning, but that she rather takes hold of the primary responsibilities of discipline. This prevents the feeling of threat the children may experience when they perceive him as a new father trying to take over the role of their biological father. Should the husband very well be the one disciplining the children, there is a great risk that the children will feel rebellious towards him. He can rather offer his wife support for handling these types of situations.

Cultivate a sense of unity

“It is immensely beneficial if members of the house, parents and children, build close and healthy relationships and that unity is cultivated within the home. As such the mother can spend some quality time facilitating between the members by playing games together, and then brothers or sisters have to alternate being in teams together.

This action builds companionship and togetherness. It also offers them the opportunity to get to know each other better. It can further develop in her husband spending individual, quality time with the children. Danger lights will flicker if not enough space is made for negotiations, where there is no respect for each other’s needs, and where ongoing degradation and emotional or physical abuse takes place. It will always be a complicated family dynamic, and therefore it is very useful to approach a professional person who can support the parents in order to achieve this balance,” explains Erika.

Don’t make your partner feel overwhelmed

Ewald and Beatrix van Rensburg gives the following advice for couples with children in their book, 21 maniere om jou huwelik te verwoes.

• Realise how difficult it is for a parent to be excluded and feel overwhelmed when the other parent’s attention is just focused on the children. Be aware of this and talk honestly about it.

• You must also realise that you can’t serve the needs of the children if you neglect your marriage by focusing all your attention on the children.

• As soon as you realise that the wellbeing of your children are directly linked to the wellbeing of your marriage, you will be less likely to feel guilty when you give attention to your primary relationship.

• Ensure that you both have a long-term vision regarding the children. Remember: They don’t live at home forever, but your spouse does. Therefore give your partner attention, don’t just base your lives on or around the children. If you don’t realise that your children will one day have their own homes, you will sit with an ‘empty nest’ home sitting next to your partner and asking: “Who are you?"

• Share as many tasks as possible, even if it doesn’t always get done according to your standards.

• Don’t despair when going through a difficult time with your teenagers. It’s difficult for them too.

• Don’t let your children’s teenage phase place a drift between the two of you, keep going, and don’t blame-and-shame. It is not unusual for children to play one parent against another.

Life within a combined family doesn’t exist without its own bumps along the road. You will have disagreements, but the secret is to not allow these to drift your family apart. Everyone in the family has to work on their relationships with each other, and remember, as a mother, you are not a bouncing ball to play around with. Invest in your relationship with your husband, but also be prepared to listen to your children.

Article by Lize Groenewald