by Olivia Zan
My friend has fallen head over heels for a man. But there’s a catch. He has two children and she has three. They’re planning to move in together; searching for the perfect home to unite two adults, five kids, a dog, a cat and one brave rabbit. As she enters a new world of step-parenting, shared care agreements and ex-spouse relationship management strategies, she has asked me for advice. I’m no expert, but I’ve been there, and I’m still doing that. And I have three key words for her. Three words for every parent with one child to fifteen. The magic words that turned my household of five emotionally fragile young people into a team of well-adjusted step-siblings.
Routine. Routine. Routine.
It’s no secret that kids thrive on a structured lifestyle. It teaches healthy habits, like brushing their teeth, exercising, and washing their hands after using the toilet. A regular bedtime ensures consistent sleep patterns, and we all know a well-rested child is a blessing. But most importantly, an organised and predictable home environment helps young people feel safe and secure. And for children experiencing a marriage collapse, this feeling of security is paramount.
When I moved in with the Man Of My Dreams we had a one, three, four, five and six year old in tow. The children were moving between homes, prowling around their new siblings, trying to cope with a new adult in their lives AND a rival for their parents’ affections. It was clear they needed structure, routine and consistency to settle them into their new household.
So we arrived at a shared care agreement with the exes and locked it in. The kids came and went at the same time, the same spot, and in the same manner for each ‘handover’. Of course, some were messier than others in terms of physical separation, but as for consistency, the logistics were rigid.
Then we set The Ground Rules, and made them clear to the children to ensure they were aware of our expectations. It was crucial the children were treated equally, so we devised a discipline plan and made it clear that we had given the other permission to enforce the rules. Timeout was used when necessary; the same spot and the same process each time.
We ran consistently by the clock.. meal time, bedtime, tv time, outside playtime. We locked in meal nights.. pasta Monday, schnitzel Tuesday, and we had a chart on the fridge assigning table setting, cleaning up and rotating seating arrangements to avoid conflict. The children re-entered our home knowing exactly where they stood. It may sound like boot camp but it worked.
On the fun side we scheduled dance parties in the lounge room, night adventures and Fish and Chip Friday to ensure we were sharing positive experiences, building stronger relationships and creating happy memories.
Four years on, the children move between homes with the ease of veterans. Sometimes we relax the rules, and we tweak them when necessary, but as every child will take a mile if you give an inch, every so often we ease them back in. When I look back at what we’ve been through, I feel a sense of pride in what we’ve managed to achieve.
So that’s my advice to my love-struck friend. Whether you are a single parent, a nuclear 2 x 2, or a blended brood of twelve, routine is the key to a well-run household and a happy, rested, amiable child. Whilst the silly season poses a welcome break from kinder runs, playdates, and the morning race to meet the school bus, happy holidays for the Zan Clan will be run to a carefully planned Summer Schedule.
Olivia Zan is a copywriter, a runner and a dressmaker. She manages a blended family by day. And when five heads hit the pillow at sunset, her studio comes to life with the tap of the Mac, the beat of the treadmill and the hum of the Singer.