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Kids   »   I feel safe having a big family in two homes

I feel safe having a big family in two homes

What’s it like growing up with a two-week rotation life? What’s good about it, and what’s not so fun? We had a chat with Matilda, 18, about her upbringing in two homes with a large blended family including parents, siblings, step-parents, and a bunch of step-brothers.

Living in two homes becomes natural

Matilda is 18 and in high school. Along with her brother, she alternates between living with her mom and her husband and her dad and his wife. Additionally, she has four step-brothers, three with her mom and one with her dad. Matilda was four when her parents separated, and she and her brother started living in two homes.

– I was very young when Mom and Dad divorced, so I barely remember life before. They met new partners with kids, and it was natural for me that everyone would be a family. I think young children live very much in the present. It wasn’t until later, when I got older, that it hit me, ‘what if Dad and Linda divorce?!’ That’s when I got everyone, on both sides, to promise that we would still be a family regardless,” she says. “And, of course, us kids argue like any other siblings, but we know we have each other no matter what,” she adds.

We kids have a special bond

Matilda is happy to have a large family, and her relationship with her step-brothers is important to her. She says having many children in the family creates a special bond.

– I especially remember my step-brother who is six years older taking me under his wing and looking out for me. We had similar interests and both loved to draw, so we spent a lot of time together. If I was upset or had a fight with someone, he was always there to talk and listen. It was so nice! When you have such a big family on both sides, your parents can’t always be there to talk, so siblings become extra important, she says.

“Will dad forget about me?”

Matilda thinks sharing time between her parents has gone well. Looking back, she says it was evident that both parents made an effort for the two-home setup to work.

– Mom was always there on the phone when I missed her. It was really important for me to be able to call her whenever I wanted. That way, the feeling of missing her wasn’t as intense. We talked often, and it suited me well. It was important that Mom and Dad listened to me there and that it was always okay to call Mom when I needed to, she says.

When she got step-siblings, she sometimes worried that her dad would forget about her. That she would be replaced by a new child in the family. She wondered, “Is he spending more time with my dad now than I am? Are they having more fun than we usually do?” It was tough to hear about fun things they did when she wasn’t home.

– That’s where my dad did a really good thing! He talked to me and my brother about how he’s truly our dad and that no other kids can take our place. No matter what happens in life, he’s ours. It was very reassuring to feel that and for Dad to be so clear about it. There was no room or reason to question it, says Matilda.

Distance can be tricky

One thing that was difficult about living alternately was when Matilda’s dad moved to the other side of town. She thinks back and says it was tough for her and her brother to commute so far.

– It was tough, commuting so much all the time. I remember being really annoyed about it. Practically, it meant that we couldn’t stay with Dad when we started school early, says Matilda. – Long distances also make it harder for everyone when you forget things, which is bound to happen sooner or later. Then it’s good if the adults take responsibility and help with picking up and dropping off stuff and not just dump everything on the kids to figure out. Our parents tried to sort out as much as they could, but it was a bit tricky sometimes anyway she says.

When your parent meets someone new

Matilda adds that it can also be tough when one of your parents meets someone new. She thinks it’s important for the adults to take it slow, although it can be difficult when they’re in love.

– I understand that as a parent, you might wish everything could be like a movie with angels singing because you’re so in love, but the kids aren’t there! The kids need peace and quiet and time to get to know the new person without any pressure really. You can meet up outside for quite a while and do things together. Then when you actually know each other a bit, maybe you can start hanging out at home and doing things that kids do with their family or close friends, Matilda suggests. – If you push too hard as a parent, you could actually ruin the chances of everything working out well, just because you’re in such a hurry yourself.

Important not to change everything at once

Children’s need to take things slowly can also show itself in how it’s really nice to keep your own routines even when the blended family forms and there are more people at home, she says.

– For me, Dad and my brother, it was super important to keep “our thing” with rice cakes and Nickelodeon. It was our thing. Not everything needs to change just because the family expands. It’s a bit new, but we also have our own thing, she says. – Adults need to respect that and not try to force everyone into one family too soon, she says.

– Then you can add new traditions and habits together as time goes on. That’s when it’s good to do things with your step-parent. Linda and I used to paint our nails, for example, and everyone got their time with each other, she adds.

The tip for a good relationsship with stepchildren

Matilda believes that the way you approach stepchildren plays a big role in how the relationship will turn out. A good starting point is being genuinely interested in the children, according to Matilda.

– I appreciated that my stepmom was genuinely interested in me and asked me questions about myself and my life because she really wanted to get to know me – not to impress my dad. It felt very good, and it definitely makes it easier to build a good relationship together, she says.

“Who’s in your family is more important than how you live!”

Matilda has several friends who grew up in two homes, just like herself. But sometimes she meets others who haven’t and who sometimes assume that it’s terrible or sad to live alternately.

– I can really get annoyed when people feel sorry for you for the way you’ve grown up, not for the family you have. I have a great family, and I’ve had two secure places to grow up in, instead of one safe place. If there’s been any fuss at any time, as it happens in all families, it’s always calm and peaceful in the other part of the family. It’s so nice! Most of my upbringing has been really good, and it’s important for me to provide that perspective too!

Summary – I feel safe having a big family in two homes

Eighteen-year-old Matilda’s story of growing up in a large blended family:

  • Children encounter new situations based on their age and maturity. For then four-year-old Matilda, it was obvious that everyone in the then-new family belonged together.
  • She and her stepbrothers formed a nice and secure relationship. They helped each other and took care of one another, and still do.
  • Sometimes, there was worry about not living with her parents all the time. Talking extra with mom on the phone when needed, and dad being clear that no child could take her place, helped.
  • It’s comforting for children when parents live close by. It makes it easier to retrieve forgotten items and arrive at school on time.
  • If a parent meets a new partner, it’s important to take it slow, genuinely, and let the children get to know the new person on their terms, not the adults’.
  • It’s crucial for the step-parent to have a genuine interest in getting to know the child. It’s evident if the questions are only asked to impress the new partner.
  • For children, what matters most is who is included in their family and how they’re doing together, not the way they live!
Elisabeth Scholander