Michele O'Mara

Blending Families

Filed By Michele O'Mara | February 05, 2007 7:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Living


My partner was previously married to a man with whom she had two children, now 17 and 13. Their father is involved and accepting of our relationship, but the kids have trouble accepting me in their life as a parental figure. My partner and I have been together 3 years now, and we continue to have the same arguments about the kids. I love the kids, and I have become very attached over the last three years, but most of the time I feel like a glorified, unpaid babysitter who has no power or respect (as a parent), yet I contribute to 50% of the financial responsibilities.
-- J.L.

Michele: Blended same-sex families that involve any combination of children are becoming more and more common. Each family combination has it's own unique set of issues, including yours. The wording of your question suggests that you are developing resentment (toward your partner) about feeling like you carry the burdens of parenthood, yet are not able to enjoy the benefits that accompany the hard work involved in parenting.

I'm curious if it is expected of you to support the children financially, or if that is something you offered to do with the hope (or expectation) of parental rights in return? If this is expected and you are not comfortable with that arrangement - I encourage you to renegotiate this so that you do not feel unduly taken for granted. The resentment won't subside until you feel like you are no longer being taken for granted - whether that involves a shift in your attitude about it, or a change in your agreements around these issues. If supporting the children financially is something you want to do, I encourage you to cut the strings (hopes and expectations) attached to your contributions. When we give (be it financial, emotional, or physical ) with expectations, we are really making an indirect request, rather than giving a gift.

Being a part of a family (with or without children) is a responsibility and a privilege. How you choose to participate is a reflection of your own values, wants, needs, and hurts. When you sign up to live with, and partner with, someone who has responsibility for children, you are indirectly signing up for the responsibility of the child(ren) too, regardless of the specific role you play. Every choice you make regarding your relationship with both your partner, and the children, either adds to, or takes away from, the highest good of all involved (including you, the children, and your partner). Most parents will go down fighting to protect their child from perceived, or real threats to their child's well-being.

The challenge in a blended family situation is to determine what your greatest assets are in terms of the contribution you can, and want to, make to the family. We all need to feel valued in our relationships. That is true with children as well. Now you are in three relationships. One with each child, and one with your partner. Once you are clear about the role you desire to have in the life of the children, you can communicate that clearly to your partner and begin discussing what you NEED to feel good about your role in the family and what you have to offer the children to help them reach their highest good. When you and your partner make decisions as a team, based on an understanding of what is best for the children, and for each of you, you can begin to respond to what's important, rather than react to what doesn't feel good.

It is a gift to your partner that you love the children she brought into this world, and it is a gift to your relationship that you care enough about them to want to figure out how to make things better. When all of the family members (including you!) feel loved, safe and valued, life is a beautiful thing. May your life be a beautiful thing.

Do you have a question for Michele? Ask it now!

Michele O'Mara is an Indianapolis-based relationship specialist for gay men and lesbians.

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It can be really hard to join a family that already has kids. The introduction and acceptance has to come on it's own. I was lucky when Jerame and I got together - his daughter lived with her mom for the first couple years of our relationship. We saw her regularly and a year or so into the relationship, she came to live with us. She was so young though, that she's grown up with me as an automatic authority figure in her life. I didn't have to fight the parental figure rebellion. :)

It can be really hard though when you don't feel respected or valued. Arguing with your partner only intensifies those feelings, I think - especially if it's over the child.

I think Michele's advice was on spot.