Navigating a blended family with grit and grace

Kinderling News & Features

Shevonne Hunt hosts Kinderling Conversation every weekday at 12pm.

I’ve come to that time in my life when people I know are separating or getting divorced.

That’s not particularly shocking in itself, we all know the statistics, but what happens when many of these people have kids?

Starting a new romantic relationship after having children seems unbelievably complex and fraught to me.

So I was intrigued by a new book called The Other Mother, a tale of love, blended families and becoming a wicked step mum by Kelly Chandler, a woman who fell in love with a man who had a five year old and two year old.

Wow, I thought. She must have really loved him.

Because, you know, I have two small children myself. Two small children who I couldn’t live without and who I love completely. But then, I think I’m biologically wired to do that. If I wasn’t I may have traded them in for a pair of new sneakers.

Falling in love can be a wildly exhilarating and beautiful experience. I can’t imagine what that would be like while navigating toilet training and tantrums with two young children you barely know.

Kelly says that it was a confusing time.

“At one point I realised that my relationship wasn’t just with him it was with these two other people, and then on top of that there was my partner’s ex and her parents. We didn’t get that young love thing that happens, I was sort of thrown into this quite complex family dynamic,” she says.

I saw a quote about step parenting online. It said:

“If you are a step parent rush out and get a dog. Because it’s very nice to have someone in the house that loves you.”

Cripes!

And yet, one in five families in Australia are blended. Are all stepparents going through that struggle?

When Kelly went looking for practical experiences on step parenting she didn’t find much. Lots of self- help-style advice, some rose coloured reflections from older stepparents. But nothing that dealt with the nitty gritty of every day experiences. Once she started writing, she realised why.

Listen to Kelly on Kinderling Conversation:

Being honest about how hard it could be also meant writing things that her “spare sons” would find hard to hear. It made her feel like the book was a ticking time bomb. After all, there were times when she just wanted to run away.

“[I lived with] the worry that the boys would read that and feel unsafe in their home, because kids want to believe that their parents always love them and will never want to run away and will just want to be with them,” Kelly explains.

She found the solution by speaking with the boys’ mother, who suggested that the boys wait until they are 25 to read the book. There’s an open letter in the book explaining why she wanted them to wait that long to read it.

Kelly is quick to point out that she doesn’t have all the answers. It’s clear that blended family life is a “work-in-progress”. But that’s what I love about this book. It’s an honest and heart felt story about falling in love and taking on a whole new family. It’s about trying to navigate all the complexities like an adult. Kelly shows how she’s done it with grit and grace, and in the process gives stepparents everywhere a mirror that will reflect some of their own experiences back to them.

And I imagine, given how many people live in blended families that will give comfort to many.