Patchwork family: new love, new happiness?

If one of the parents falls in love again after a separation, life for all involved is thrown into turmoil. How a new wife or husband can find a place in the family

Patchwork family has a picnic in a meadow

A harmonious family? That would be desirable in patchwork

Patchwork family: new love, new happiness?

The image selection took us a long time with this sensitive topic. If the scene is too harmonious? When parents separate, it means pain, suffering and hurt feelings. Which patchwork family, if you please, has so much in common?? Mom, dad, the kids and the new girl are happily having a picnic- that is an illusion. "However, the picture shows well the wishful thinking of most patchwork couples who come to counseling.", says Ariane von Thungen. The family psychologist at Pro Familia in Munich helps patchwork families on their way to harmonious coexistence. If patchwork succeeds, the picture can actually become reality. "However, it means that everyone is embarking on a long journey. The adults have to be patient, develop a lot of understanding for the other side and it is always true that the children set the pace for each further developmental step", says the graduate psychologist. "It can take years until everyone has found his or her role in the patchwork family."

Wait, wait, wait

Assuming this family in the photo is real, a typical patch–work case. It would be the father (Tom) who has a new partner (Eva). Let us now turn back the time when the separation between Tom and Tanja, his ex, is still very fresh. He has moved out, the children live mainly with their mother, and currently see their father only on weekends. A few months pass, parents and children gradually get used to the new routine, then Tom meets Eva. They fall in love. Tom would like Eva and the boys to get to know each other as soon as possible. Is this a good idea? "I would wait with that. Tom and Eva should first be very sure that they want to be together, and they must realize that patchwork is a big challenge that demands a lot from the relationship", advises expert von Thungen.

New family idyll?

What we know from our counseling experience the psychologist that parents who have just fallen in love often try to create a new ideal family very quickly. "You have a guilty conscience towards the children, because they now have to grow up with separated parents. With a new partner, you can start all over again," she explains, says von Thungen. "That’s true, but the time factor plays a decisive role here," says the psychologist. The parent in love should not try to replace the other parent with the new wife or husband."

Family therapist Claudia Hillmer from Hamburg

Family therapist Claudia Hillmer from Hamburg

For our example father Tom, this means that before the children meet Eva, he informs Tanja that he has a girlfriend and that it is a serious relationship. "And not between door to door, but in peace and without the children. Tanja is not only Tom’s former partner, but the mother of his children and should know about this change", says Claudia Hillmer, a family therapist from Hamburg, who advises patchwork families and is herself a patchworker.

Whether new partners are accepted has a lot to do with the past of the -parent couple and with the understanding of the roles of the new family members. "If they are only partners, it is easier, and nevertheless with them often only the separation reality arrives correctly with all involved ones. If, as in the example, the parents face each other as mother and father and no longer as a couple still struggling with old hurts, Tanja may even be happy for Tom", Hillmer explains.

The first getting to know each other

Tanja is not exactly jumping for joy, but rather out of concern for the children. Leon is still too young to understand the whole thing, but Noah often asks in the evenings when Dad will be back home to sleep. "If the separation is still relatively fresh, children hope for a long time that the parents will get together again, explains Ariane von Thungen. That’s why parents need to talk gently to their children, to pick up on their feelings," says family counselor Claudia Hillmer. Only in this way can the separation of the parents also arrive at them. The first meeting between children and their new love should also be as innocuous as possible. "For the time being, a few hours are enough to not overtax the children", says the psychologist. von Thungen also advises newlyweds not to get too close in front of their children. Close embraces, passionate kisses or even cuddling in bed are taboo in the beginning. But also the adults should not fib. Dad’s new man or mom’s new man are not acquaintances or work colleagues. "Explain to the children what is going on. Separation children have very sensitive sensors for changes, they sense what is going on. Also already Dreijah–rige", she explains.

Time of approach

Not only do the children need time, but the new wife or husband also has to adjust to having a child. "In contrast to the biological parent, a new partner does not have the heart connection to the child. That means the relationship must be allowed to grow", says family counselor Claudia Hillmer. Basically, this process is comparable to the development of a friendship. "In order to get to know each other, activities that are really fun for both of them are suitable Do the things they like to do with each other", says Hillmer. New partners also need to be aware that they will always be number two- behind the child to be. "The parent-child relationship is always colder than the new love relationship", explains von Thungen. Especially if the newcomer doesn’t have children of his or her own yet, this can lead to competitive fights, especially if the children are already older. "A favorite battleground is the distribution of seats in the car", says von Thungen. There will -always- be situations where you feel left out. Like when parents and kids are looking at old family pictures or celebrating daycare farewells. "A new partner will never replace a parent. If things go well, he can become a good friend, a confidant", encouraged by Thungen.

The shared apartment

Let us return to our example family. The relationship between Tom and Eva is strengthened- now the two want to move in together. How can this succeed? The members of the family must learn to communicate about their needs. Everyone needs a place where they feel comfortable," says von Thungen, says Hillmer. In addition, new partners are not a substitute mom or dad and do not allow themselves to be pushed into this role. The educational responsibility lies only with the parents. Easier said than done. When you live together, you automatically bring up your children, don’t you?? "Not having parenting responsibilities doesn’t mean putting up with everything. But it makes a difference whether I talk to the child as a roommate or as an educator", adds von Thungen. If the kids are messy, you don’t have to put up with it. But teaching them how to keep order is the parent’s job. Even the natural parent has to accept that only he is the parent. It must be clear that everything the new partner does for the child is voluntary and cannot be taken for granted. "If patchwork families succeed in positive togetherness, all family members are super communication trained. They have learned to exchange ideas, to negotiate, to treat each other with respect, to listen and to respect each other’s feelings", so von Thungen.

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