About a week ago I received this message:
I am in desperate need of advice. I have 4 children and my husband has 4 children from a previous marriage. For the past several months we have been in a custody battle for his children. It is looking like we are going to be granted custody and we will know for sure within a week. I however, as good for the kids as it will be, am in panic mode 24/7. I have no idea how i am going to manage 8 children. Do you have any tips or suggestions?
You are going to have your hands full, and I can totally relate!
But if you can handle four kids, you will be able to handle eight.
I don’t know how old the kids are, and I don’t know how long you’ve been married, and I don’t know the specifics of why they are going to be living with you.
So all of those things are factors, as well as how much time you have already spent with the kids, how well you know them, and how comfortable they are with you.
I can imagine that if your husband has been in a custody battle, the kids may be a little confused, upset, and unsure. And now their routine and everything else in their lives has been turned upside down.
When you first start off a school year and have a classroom full of kids you don’t know very well and who don’t know each other very well, you spend a lot of time establishing routines and getting to know your students so that you know best how to interact with them, so you learn their strengths and weaknesses, their likes and dislikes.
So my first piece of advice would be to spend time getting to know the kids. This may take quite a bit of time, and it might take much more time for one kid than it does for another. If the custody battle got ugly, there is a good chance the kids either overheard or were told some negative things about you and your husband by their mom. And the more damage that was done, the more time it could take to bond with the kids and to develop some trust.
There are lots of ways you can get to know your stepchildren better. But they don’t have to be special treats or trips to the mall to go shopping or anything like that. You can help them with their homework or drive them to sports activities or teach them how to use the washing machine or ask them if they want to help you cook dinner. But the more of a bond they have with you, the more smoothly things will run.
So give it time, don’t force things, and be patient.
Next, I would spend time establishing routines.
When I was an elementary school teacher, I spent the first couple weeks establishing routines with the kids. Where do backpacks go? Where do you put your homework? Where does your lunchbox go? How do you line up to go to another classroom?
I would suggest spending some time making sure everyone understands what the important routines to keeping the house running smoothly are, and then teach the kids how to do them.
What things need to be done to get ready for school or before you leave the house in the morning? What things need to be done when you get ready for bed?
You can make a list with the kids, and they can let you know what they would like to have as part of their routine. Do they like to read a story before bed? Do they like to have some quiet time or some one-on-one time with you or your husband?
Another thing many teachers do in the beginning of the school year is to establish the class rules, and usually they will have the students come up with the rules for the classroom. Usually it’s five rules at the most, but the important thing is that the students are involved in deciding what rules are the most important. Of course they are guided by the teacher, but this helps the children to develop a sense of community and ownership of the way things will work in the classroom.
You could do the same kind of thing for expectations at home.
Finally, if you need help, ask for it. And accept it!
Whatever it is. Carpooling, making meals, laundry, whatever. If there is something overwhelming you, get help! You are already superwoman by doubling the number of kids you are raising overnight. Even superheroes work with other superheroes!
All these things are important. Getting to know your stepchildren better, establishing routines, making sure everyone understands the expectations, involving all the members of the family, asking for or accepting help.
But there is one thing that is absolutely imperative if any of this stuff is going to work, because without this, all the other things don’t really matter.
You and your husband need to be on the same page, and just like the kids need to know what the rules and the expectations and the routines are, the two of you are going to have to figure out the logistics of this new arrangement for your family.
It can be very difficult as the step parent to know what the expectations for you are. Some things you think your husband would appreciate with respect to taking care of his kids might really piss him off.
Be open to communication and be open to adjusting the way you are doing things together on a regular basis.
How are you going to handle discipline? What will be expected of all the kids in the house? What responsibilities will everyone have? How will you handle behavior issues or whatever problems arise with your husband’s children?
If you two are not in agreement, it doesn’t matter what routines you come up with or what rules have been established. If you are not working on the same team, all that stuff goes out the window.
But when you and your husband agree on how you are going to parent all the children in your family together, when there are clear expectations and boundaries and mutual respect for how things are going to work with all the kids in the house, that, in my opinion, will be the biggest determining factor in how you will successfully manage the logistics of your new family.
Big changes are on your horizon. It’s gonna be tough some of the time.
Probably a lot of the time.
Your family is getting twice as big.
But it’s also getting twice as awesome.
And you can totally do this.
Please keep voting!