Dear Dr. Jann: I’ve been married to a man for five years. He has two children ages 8 and 10 and I have two, ages 13 and 10. Together we also have twin three-year-old girls. His kids see their mother on weekends, but she really has no influence on them and I find they have a hard time coming back into the fold. I don’t know what to do anymore. Help!

Dr. Jann says: Red flags ahead!  Red flag number one.
You said: “His kids see their mother on weekends…but she really has no influence on them.” It’s important to realize that a parent always has influence over their children. Unfortunately, it may be a bad influence, but you are mistaken when you think that their mother has no influence at all—which brings us to red flag number two.

Without knowing it, your actions may discount the children’s mother and your attitude may be obvious to the kids. Many times we think we are hiding our true feelings when in actuality, they are written all over our face. You may be subtly negating their mother’s importance and the kids resent it. As a result, it is difficult for them to readjust when they return home.

Red flag number three. The dynamic of your household is very complicated. You have toddlers, adolescents, and teenagers all living under the same roof. Without the proper preparation for this yours, mine, and ours lifestyle, kids can retreat to their corners and life splits along blood lines. Was there a concerted plan in place before you moved in together? Are six kids squished into two bedrooms and do your husband’s kids have their own bedroom at mom’s? As simple as it may seem, one of the reasons for the kids’ inability to readjust could simply be culture shock. It’s crowded at your house!

The key to making your household work is preparation, organization, and creating a feeling of “family” and you can’t do that by thinking your family is the “real family” and since mom just has the kids on the weekends, she’s not really important.

Make sure there’s a forum for conflict resolution in place so that when a problem does arise, family members know how to solve it. I’m not talking about family discussions that turn into blame/fault tirades. I’m suggesting a forum where family members feel safe airing their differences and confident a solution will be found. That’s a good start, and you will find lots more help for combining families on the Bonus Families website.