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The patchwork family - how to live in it, if its functioning may not be the easiest one? The new partner brings to the relationship not only love, but also his family. Common holidays and celebrations, when you get to know each other, are usually an important test for everyone. Read what exactly a patchwork family is and learn what to do to make new bonds tighten instead of tangling.
- Patchwork family: what is it?
- Patchwork family: how to live in it?
The patchwork familyis a not so rare picture in Poland. According to CBOS data, since 2010 the number of divorces in Poland has stabilized and amounts to about 65,000 a year - there are three times more weddings1 . Social acceptance for breakups also grows when the relationship is not going well - 3/4 of Polish women and Poles accept divorce.
Patchwork family: what is it?
A patchwork family is created when partners - parents who have split up enter into further relationships with other people. So a kind of relationship arises in which there are two mothers, two fathers, two pairs of in-laws. And of course the children. If, for example, a child stays after divorce / separation from his mother, they form a patchwork family with the woman's new partner. If he also has children, he maintains contact with them and necessarily with their mother. Plus the parents of both of them and the former partner of the woman and the father of their joint children. A nice mix is created and this is where the name of this kind of relationship comes from - the word "patchwork" was originally used in relation to a fabric composed of various types of materials that forms the whole.
Just as patchwork is sewn from many pieces of fabrics of different texture, thickness, pattern and color, the patchwork family is made up of people with different characters, habits and past. It takes a lot of time and effort to make all the elements fit together.
Why do we decide to live in a patchwork family? After the difficult part of the breakup, we usually fall into a social void. Along withwitha partner leaves some mutual friends who prefer to remain neutral and do not want to take part in the conflict. Former in-laws also find it difficult to adjust to the new situation. They do not want to hurt their son or daughter, but are afraid of having contact with their grandchildren and often their daughter-in-law as wellor son-in-law with whom they have become close for years.
After some time, these relationships normalize. Old friends return - at least some - and new ones appear. Your relatives slowly get used to the fact that you appear with your new partner, and sometimes his children as well. This stage is not easy. How to avoid unnecessary clashes in family modes?
Patchwork family: how to live in it?
Either they or I
It was supposed to be a great event - my beloved sister's wedding. But it probably won't happen - complains Monika. It was about the guest list. Young people cannot imagine their wedding without Adam, Monika's ex-husband. Ania - the future bride - lived with Adam and Monika during her studies. They spent a lot of time together and went rafting. Ania painfully experienced her sister's divorce.
- Probably more than me - Monika wonders. - Ania felt sorry for me that I made my decision so hastily. Today he wants to invite his former brother-in-law to the wedding. I explain that he does not belong to our family anymore, he has a new one. Somehow I came to terms that the children spend time with them. But a family celebration? Monika cannot imagine how she would behave. Pretend not to see them? To the woman who broke her marriage, to talk as if nothing happened? "They or me," she announced.
What does a psychologist say to that?It's a difficult experience - meeting my ex-husband and his new partner at a family celebration. And although we can expect loy alty from our relatives, especially family, we are unable to forbid them from contacting them. Putting an "him or me" ultimatum doesn't seem like the right way to go. You have to respect your sister's feelings and attachment to your brother-in-law. But there is no need to bother talking to the ex-husband and his new partner. All you need to do is to say greetings courteously and spend the whole party with your loved ones.
Family therapy: what is it?
How to maintain good family relations after a breakup?
Emotional betrayal: how do you know what's going on in time?
New partner just after divorce
- I was seeing Janusz before the divorce - says Dorota. - She didn't get along with her husband for a long time - he worked in another city, they were far from each other. It was Janusz who helped her on a daily basis. Ola, Dorota's 4-year-old daughter, loved when he would take her for walks. They moved in together the day after the divorce, a week before Christmas.
Ola took it naturally. Like the fact that the three of them will go to grandma's for Christmas Eve. Janusz was very happy that he would finally meet his family, he even bought small gifts for everyone. "This is my future husband. And a new dadOli, "she told her family, introducing Janusz. But the evening was not nice, the conversations were not sticky, and the next day Dorota's mother called and reproached her. That she had exaggerated by bringing a stranger to Christmas. sees the problem.
What does the psychologist say?Janusz's natural presence in Dorota's life is not obvious to her relatives. Divorce is also an important experience for friends and the family of the breaking up. Everyone at an individual pace is able to grasp the changes associated with it. You will spare yourself and others unpleasant atmosphere and troublesome reactions if you introduce them gradually and predictably, when you also gradually prepare your relatives for these changes.
In the case of Dorota, it seems that there was no prior notification, or even the question of whether it would be okay for loved ones if she came with Janusz on Christmas Eve. The second issue is calling Janusz Ola's dad. If Ola has a dad who wants to meet her, it would be good for them to keep in touch on a regular basis; so that the separation of parents does not mean the loss of one of them.
How your child will address your new partner depends on many factors - the relationship they have with their biological father, the child's age, your partner's expectations, etc. It is worth remembering that the sentence: "Talk to me: dad "for mum's partner it can mean:" I love you and I want to treat you like my own child ".
But for a little boy it may sound like a threat: "You want to replace my dad". Instead of deepening the relationship, then there is hostility or distance. Sometimes it is worth trusting children - giving them a choice of what they want to call their new mum's partner - uncle, dad or by name.
The family does not accept the new relationship
Zosia, Karol's wife, left for bread a few years ago. The plan was simple: find a corner for them, look for a job, get Karol. It happened otherwise. Zosia met a new love there. They divorced. Karol was left alone in the apartment that his parents helped him to buy. After a year, Magda moved in with him. Kacper was born soon.
- We invited our closest relatives to the christening - recalls Karol. - The screeching started before dinner, when one of the aunts blurted out: "You look miserable, Karol, I guess you are not happy". Then there were other biting remarks: "The flowers were dead, Zosia knew how to take care of them" and "This cake is from a confectionery? Well, and Zosia baked everything herself".
Karol is resentful: - As if they suddenly forgot that she left me. I wonder if I could spare Magda the pain. And what to do to prevent them from happening again.
What do you saypsychologist?We are not able to fully predict the behavior of friends, close or extended family. While unfortunate statements referring to your ex-partner do happen, they are even inevitable, it seems more important how you behave in such a situation.
When it is a small remark, actually unknowingly directed against your new partner, it may be worth keeping silent and supporting your loved one with your gaze and gesture, or redirecting the conversation to a safe topic. But if someone is openly dislike, it's best to respond openly during or after the meeting by saying that such remarks are inappropriate.
The most important thing is that your partner feels that she can rely on you and has your support. However, when you know that there is a high probability of this type of behavior, talk to the person beforehand and make it clear that you do not want such comments.
The children liked each other
- This is our first Christmas after the divorce - says Małgorzata. Unpleasant surprises started a few weeks ago, when Kasia, her 9-year-old daughter, announced: "You know, I have a brother, he is 10 years old. And soon I will have another one".
Małgorzata doesn't know what hurt her more - the enthusiasm of her daughter, who called some strange children her siblings, or that her husband will now have three children.
- He did not want to have two with me, and now he would not only raise another man's child, but also wanted another, his own. The worst thing, however, is that Kasia liked her "new" brother so much. And he asks his mother to invite him to Christmas, even for a few days. Małgorzata is not going to agree.What does the psychologist say?It is natural to wish not to see your ex-husband, to give yourself time to cool down. However, in this situation, it seems worth considering allowing good relations between the child and step-siblings. The child must not dislike the children of Dad's new relationship.
If she likes her "stepbrother" she may feel lost, disloyal to you, not okay that she feels like someone you don't like. And yet these new relationships can be valuable and important to him. It is obvious that you do not need to burst with joy or love these new children yourself, but do not transfer your suffering, regret, jealousy to them.
Be open to talking to your child about it, but don't question him or make him a spy, confidant or comforter. The child may then avoid talking to you, move away from you, lie to you, live guilty, with the baggage of responsibility that it contributes to your suffering.
1. The CBOS report is available at: https://www.cbos.pl/PL/publikacje/news/2019/03/newsletter.php [accessed on January 30, 2019]