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There are many ways my family has an advantage over the regular two-parent model. That extra pair of hands, for one thing, that makes a massive difference, particularly in the foggy, newborn days. But it also throws up a number of problems that, while not absent in other families, can feel more acute in ours. Specifically, I'm thinking about the issue of control.
Parents who live together may not always agree on every aspect of raising their kids but, somehow, they have to find a way to compromise and put on a united front for their children. The rules their kids live by are the "house rules". There might be small differences – Dad lets us have a second bowl of ice cream, Mum helps with our homework, that sort of thing – but, essentially, there's one way of doing things; one style of parenting.
For us, it's not so clear. Our children are growing up, much like the children of divorced parents, with two homes and, in many ways, two different ways of doing things. Catherine, for example, is one of life's organisers and needs to know what she's going to be doing and how her day will go. She does a lot of structured activities with the kids – swimming lessons, baby gym, play dates etc. Cam and I, on the other hand, tend to take a much looser approach. The kids have a daily routine with us, but there is plenty of space for just pottering about, watching telly or kicking around the park. I know that Catherine sometimes finds our laissez-faire approach frustrating, just as I think she sometimes over-organises. If we lived together all the time, we would doubtless find a balance, but because we don't, what happens is that the kids have two homes with somewhat different parenting styles.
Does it matter? For the children, I would say not. First, kids are incredibly adaptable and seem to have no problem understanding that different things happen in different houses (especially if that's all they have ever known). And, over the course of a week, the organised and laid-back approaches probably balance out. But for us parents, it's been an exercise in learning to cede control. It requires a huge amount of trust in the other parent; trust that, though they may do things very differently, they are still doing what's best for your child. But you learn to let go and, in time, even see the benefits of this dual approach. Interestingly, when Hal arrived and we all started living at Catherine's house, Georgia became really unsettled. She only seemed to return to her normal, sunny self when Cam and I took her back to spend the night at our place. Of course, for her living in two homes is "normal" so suddenly being in the same house all the time felt strange. Her routine had been disrupted and she didn't like it.
Some things are sacrosanct. Whichever house the kids are in, they have the same bedtime routine and discipline is consistent. It's important that there is never a suggestion that they can get away with behaviour with one parent that would be unacceptable with the others.
As always, our family works first and foremost because we talk a lot and listen to each other. That is the golden rule, and the first thing I say to people who are considering entering an arrangement like ours. You won't always agree on everything, but it's how you handle it that counts. Remember that you all have the best interests of the children at heart and trust each other.
Article: 28th April 2012 www.guardian.co.uk