Written by: Cally Worden
Moving in with a new partner is a significant step in any relationship, but it throws up additional challenges when there are children in the mix. The ease with which you create your step family will depend on many things, some of them out of your control, particularly in respect of your exes. Navigating the practicalities and emotional fallout from creating a new family can be stressful. Here is some guidance aimed at helping you all make a smooth transition into your new, combined lives.
Presenting a United Front
It is a mistake to blunder into new living arrangements with your partner without first exploring how life will work in this new reality. Things to get straight at the outset include:
- Where you will be living – moving into an existing home can be tricky for an incoming partner so it’s vital to address any concerns around this.
- Who will be living there – you may or may not be primary carers for your collective children. Be sure that each of you understands how much time your respective children will be spending in your joint home.
- Living arrangements – agree upfront who will be sleeping where in your new home. Will your children need to share a bedroom to accommodate incoming step siblings? Who will have which rooms?
- House rules – you may think it’s okay for your kids to stay up late on weeknights playing their games consoles. Your new partner may disagree. This type of difference in parenting styles can create problems, so if there are issues that are important to you be sure to raise them in advance. Some parents are happy to pick up after their kids – others insist they take on some house chores – get all these types of issue out in the open before you start.
- Child-management responsibilities – you need to work out who will be responsible for managing and disciplining your children. Then be sure to inform the children how the new regime will work. Kids love to divide and conquer, be sure that whatever you work out is okay for both you and your partner and that you present a united front to the children at all times.
- Financial contributions – money is a well-known flashpoint for many couples. It can easily create resentment and insecurity in a fragile new relationship. Discuss the financial practicalities before you move in, be clear on who is responsible for paying what, and when.
- Set expectations – every relationship has its own rhythm. Your ex may have happily taken responsibility for household maintenance, but it’s not reasonable to assume your new partner will be the same. Chat in advance about how you imagine daily life running – who will shop, cook, clean, wash, iron and so on.
Breaking the News
In most circumstances your children will be aware of your new relationship, with the imminent possibility of you moving in with your new partner. They may be worried about what this will mean for them – young children in particular can be concerned about the practicalities of who will sleep where, whether there will be a need to change houses, rooms, and all the familiar things they enjoy having around them at home.
It is vital that you, first alone and then together with your new partner, talk with your children about what is going to happen. Be open with them about this new reality, take time to explain to them anything that will be changing in their own personal world. Take time to listen to and address their concerns carefully and sensitively.
In an ideal world your new family will be financial independent, where together you earn enough to support yourselves and cover any childcare costs. In many cases, the numbers simply don’t stack up, so before you make the move in together take a close look at how you will afford to finance your new life. Things to consider include:
- Changes to any benefits you receive because your household structure has changed
- Modifications to tax credits as a result of an updated household income pattern
- The impact of Child Maintenance payments (in, and out) on your overall available living cash – also consider whether these amounts may change as a result of there being an extra person or people in your new family
Step families can offer everyone involved a fabulous opportunity to create a new extended support group. They can also create tension and problems. Being open, sensitive, and aware of the need for everyone to adjust will set you off on the right foot. Beyond that, it’s important to keep listening to each other and ensure the lines of communication remain open to receiving new issues and concerns. These can then be dealt with before they evolve into problems.