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Blending into a modern family

Blended families are now common, and TV3 weatherman Martin King and his new bride Jenny McCarthy look a picture of happiness at their recent nuptials, as do their five children -- two from their relationship, and three from previous romances.

Theirs is no longer an unusual family set-up; a growing number of couples are forming new relationships and families after separation, divorce or bereavement.

"It makes sense when you think of the number of people separating and moving into new relationships," says Martina Newe, founder of helpme2parent.ie.

However, a blended family can be complicated for parents and children, and one which can require patience and compromise. The demands of parenthood are exhausting, yet stepfamilies can have a multitude of schools, grannies, play dates, and children can be years apart.

Bestselling Irish author Fiona Cassidy (36) and her partner Philip (43), an audio visual technician, have six children -- two each from previous relationships and two together.

The writer believes it was a bonus that their romance blossomed when their children were young: "We were lucky in that our older children were all so young when we started going out -- it's only now that they are teenagers and have their own opinions and ideas that I can see how much more difficult it would have been to introduce them to somebody new.


"It still had its problems and it took everyone time to adjust," she adds. "Our girls are the same age, with only two weeks between their birthdays, and as girls are quite competitive it took a while for them to establish a relationship with each other, although I'm both chuffed and delighted to say that they are the best of friends these days."

In extended families there may be extra pressure on a family's time, resources and finances, and even emotions. Parenting coach Martina runs courses for separated couples and stepfamilies, and says: "A big problem can be a parent criticising the other biological parent, even with a gesture like rolling their eyes to heaven when their name is mentioned."

Blended families are broadly defined as the coming together of two adults who have children from previous relationships and may also include a child or children from the newly formed relationship.

Hollywood families which have been described as being 'blended' are the Jolie Pitt family and the Kardashian family.

Martina says, "We all know of families made up of children from previous relationships, and which work extremely well. But I always say to couples who are new to the situation that it isn't like being The Brady Bunch, it's a lot of hard work."

Blended families may indeed be more complex and intricate, but, as television personality Martin King and his new wife, Jenny McCarthy, show with their happy bunch, they can also be extremely successful.

Parenting coach Martina suggests, "Different things work for different families. I would recommend something as simple as consulting children about what colours to paint the rooms in a new house. At all times let children know that their opinion is being sought and thought to be important."

It pays to make children from both sides feel secure and special as parents move towards a long-term relationship or marriage.


Martina believes, "Refereeing arguments brings all sort of problems and issues to a head. Is a parent siding with their own children too much, or are they going over the top by supporting their partner's children in a bid to be seen to be fair?

"Give each child some one-on-one time, even if it's for a 10-minute chat at the end of a day. Always let them know that their feelings are being taken into consideration," she says.

Bestselling writer Fiona is enjoying a very positive experience of being part of a blended family.

She says: "It can work, but I think the important thing is not to try and force anyone to like you.

"Also, Philip's ex is his children's mum and I'm very aware of that and I've always tried not to over-step the mark.

"I know I don't always succeed but I think they have accepted me. I treat them like I'd treat my own children but ultimately leave the discipline up to Philip," she says.

Having a large family is a dream come true for the author who grew up an only child.

"I think very few people have the nuclear family now, but so long as there's love there, then that's what's important.

"We fight, but what family doesn't?" she says. "Family disputes aren't something that stepfamilies have a monopoly on!"