Our Blended Family Got Off To a Rocky Start Thanks to Covid. Here’s How We Managed
'I started to feel like a stranger in a home that was supposed to now be mine, too.'
*Names withheld for privacy.
In January, my partner and I decided to try living together, starting in the spring. We both have kids from previous marriages, three under age 11. We knew it would be a struggle for them, so we planned to move slowly and take stock of their emotions at every step.
Then Covid-19 hit
We decided to self-isolate together at his house starting in March, which meant my daughter and I were moving in. And we’d be there all the time. My partner and I were both working from home, and there were three kids who needed to be home-schooled, so it was like the decision was made for us. It was out of necessity more than it was out of love, and that’s where things got tangled. We wanted the message to our kids to be that we chose this life for ourselves, that we’re moving forward. But the undercurrent was that we’re all here because we have to be, it’s more feasible financially and it’s more feasible for looking after all of you.
In those first few weeks, his kids would say, “They’re here all the time.” And, “I like them, but I don’t want to see them all the time. Why can’t you just be friends?” That’s typical for all blended families, but the circumstances added to my guilt. Nobody was having playdates, visiting relatives, or going to swim lessons or out for ice cream — all the things that would relieve the pressure and give the kids some space and time apart to process the new situation. My daughter and I had spent practically a year’s worth of time here condensed into the first two months. And his daughter was having a tough time with it.
(Related: Canadian women reveal how Covid-19 has led to a reckoning in their relationships.)
I started to feel like a stranger in a home that was supposed to now be mine too — like I was overstaying my welcome. And when you’re the source of tension or fragility between a man and his kids, that’s tough. What’s the right choice? Retreat back to separate homes? Stay and fight through it? What resentments were we building?
My partner was caught between his unhappy daughter; his ex, and me feeling unwelcome. At one point he broke down and said, “All the women in my life are miserable.” That felt bad. As his new partner, I want to be the source of joy and happiness, to help him solve his problem. But how could I, when I was part of it?
In a confined space, with no room to breathe, it’s scary to bring things up that could cause stress because there’s no way to relieve it. So I held things inside. For example, my partner’s ex was a source of tension between us before Covid-19. And when we moved in together, that ramped up. Before I was in his space, I didn’t know how often she was in contact with him. He had the freedom to manage it however he wanted. Now it was in my face. I felt tense every time his phone pinged. It took away some of the excitement of us moving in together.
There were times I felt very alone. It’s hard to say that when your partner is 20 feet away from you, 24 hours a day. It’s like talking out of both sides of your mouth. I realized part of that feeling of isolation was because we were all siloed. My partner and I attended to our own kids because we didn’t want to rock the boat. But we had to break down those silos. We sat down with the kids and said that whatever we’re feeling, there’s probably someone in the house who is feeling the same way. We’re in this together. We have to help one another. Otherwise, little things become big things, and big things become enormous. Separating ourselves in this house doesn’t work.
My partner and I came into this with a grateful attitude. And that has saved us. We both went through relationships in which resentments were left to fester and things turned sour, so we want to avoid that. We make an effort to thank each other for the little things, and that has kept us romantically linked. The newness of our relationship means we still want to give each other grace.
And as for blending our families, we now have a mantra: Don’t try to change someone’s reality. Try to show them a new one, so their old one becomes obsolete. We are still figuring it out, but we now have more moments of pure fun and happiness together, which makes the struggle worth it.