Don’t Underestimate How Much Change You and your Children can Handle

mother and three children playing on a fort made under the bed
Jul 10, 2017 | Sara Khaki

This continues with part three of my series regarding working together with my boyfriend with a parenting coach.  In our second session with the counselor, I brought up an issue that may seem insignificant but is very common when dating with children.  To give a bit of background, my boyfriend has two young girls ages 5 and 7, and I have a son who is 6.  The three children all have very different personalities, with my boyfriend’s youngest being very spirited and strong-willed, and his children having the typical (and loud!) sibling arguments.  I grew up as an only child and my son is an only child, so my house growing up and my current house is for the most part peaceful and quiet.

By the sixth month of our relationship, I was spending a significant amount of time at my boyfriend’s home and was having a difficult time adjusting to the noise and mess that comes with having multiple children, and especially one very spirited child.  I started feeling a great deal of anxiety and stress over never being able to get away from it all.  This especially bothered me in his master bathroom which his children would freely enter and use.  I was regularly bothered by the toothpaste smears on the beautiful claw foot tub, children’s clothes all over the floor, and my makeup bag and personal toiletries regularly disturbed by children, but it came to a head after two incidents.  In one, I was using the restroom and the youngest barged into the bathroom while she was on the phone with her mother.  Talk about awkward!  Shortly after this, I went to take a shower in the master bathroom and stepped into a giant puddle of watercolor paint that went unnoticed until it was covering my foot.

I had mentioned my feelings of anxiety over the children’s use of the master bathroom before, but after these incidents I had a minor meltdown.  My boyfriend might call it a major meltdown.  I had a frank conversation with him about the stress I felt over never being able to have privacy or any space at all where my belongings would go untouched and I knew I wouldn’t step in paint, glitter, or dirty undies.  We talked about the issue and hearing his perspective was interesting.  He shared that the children have always had free range of the master bathroom, and they have always taken showers in that bathroom as they prefer it to their own.  He felt they had so much change after the divorce that he didn’t want to change something else that might upset them.

We brought the issue up in our next counseling session and discovered some helpful tips we learned relevant to post-divorce parenting and new relationships:

  1. A lot of “housekeeping” type of issues can cause great anxiety for a partner.
  2. Needing privacy is a reasonable request.
  3. Wanting to hold on to familiar things and not wanting change is a way of dealing with anxiety and feeling some control.
  4. However, don’t underestimate how much change you and your children can handle.  Often change is necessary for the greater good.

We agreed that the master bathroom would be the one room where only adults are allowed and children must ask for permission to enter.  He changed the shower head in the girls’ bathroom to make it more like the one in the master.  I purchased both of them gift baskets to make their own bathroom more enjoyable – scented bath products for the oldest and some fun toys and bath coloring items for the youngest.  Four months later, the girls are perfectly fine using their own bathroom, and I have a retreat in his home where I can take a bath with a glass of wine or just use the bathroom alone without being interrupted.

When dating post-divorce, it’s important to recognize that there is going to be a lot of change.  Dating in your 30’s and 40’s with children means that both partners have established careers, homes, and routines, and both partners must make a lot of accommodations to adjust to the life of the other.  It is not reasonable to expect to be keep everything exactly the same for the children.  It’s also important to recognize that your new partner does not have the history and bond that you have with your own children, so they will likely need more space and privacy in your home than you are used to for yourself.  The most important thing is to communicate with each other, know when to pick your battles, and be willing to make compromises.  Children are resilient, and we are also more resilient than we often believe.

By: Jeanette Soltys

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