[NB: for the flow and ease of reading, I’ll refer to the breakdown of a Mum/Dad relationship. The same advice applies if there’s a breakdown of a Mum/Mum or Dad/Dad relationship.]
Regardless of the reason why you need to, having 2 unrelated children begin living under the same roof will always come with its own set of challenges. Think sibling rivalry on steroids!
Firstly, it’s important to remember that this season is a HUGE life change for your kids. Their Mum and Dad no longer live in the same space, their interactions are different to what they’ve always been, maybe they’re seeing Dad less than they used to, the dynamic of their whole life is unfamiliar now and needs to be re-learnt. Transition and change are hard for kids!
Set The Ground Rules
Discuss parenting ideals before moving in together. Can your kids have lollies after dinner but your new housemate’s kids can’t? How will you both negotiate that? What responsibility does each adult have for the other’s children? Are you co-parenting? Or only sharing a living space?
Set up house rules. Have a house meeting! Ask for the kids’ input and decide together what the rules of the house are. Can you run inside? Who helps set the table? How should we speak to each other? What happens if we both want the same toy?
Acknowledge How Your Child Feels
Listen. Take some uninterrupted time and ask your child how they feel about sharing their space with another child. Your job here is just to listen. No justifying, no explaining, no solving problems. “I hear you really don’t like sharing you space. I see that you don’t enjoy having him here at the moment. I hear that you’re finding it really hard to listen to their Mummy. You’re allowed to feel those things.” Validate their feelings and allow them to feel heard.
Remember, a lot may have changed for them and they’re probably having a lot of confusing thoughts:
Why is this new adult suddenly hanging around my mum all the time?
Why do I have to get along with this other kid who I don’t like?
I feel angry that I don’t see Dad every day anymore.
Why do I have to share *my* space with this extra kid?
Why am I suddenly expected to listen to this other adult who isn’t my Mum or Dad?
Why did we have to move? I liked our old house.
Helping Them Adjust
Do supervised playtime. One adult with the two kids who are struggling to get along. Don’t play competitive games, but something you can all work on together as a team.
Give each child a “My Things” box. This is for the very special toys that they really don’t want to share. This gives them ownership and control of something when they might feel like their space is a bit out of their control.
Spend one on one time with your kids. There is nothing as valuable as sincere and intentional connection with your kids.
Finally, it’s helpful to remember that, as adults, we don’t always like everyone we meet. Allow your kids time to grow on each other and get to know each other. Are they having a personality clash? Is one very sensitive and gentle and the other loud, extroverted and passionate? Or are they such close personalities that they push each other’s buttons?
Don’t try and rush kids getting along. Yes, it might be frustrating but they’re probably going to need time. And love, grace and patience.
About The Contributor: Mim Dart is the Founder of MummyCon and she can be found through the links below.