In this episode we have the pleasure of sitting down with Franii Cayley, a renowned blended family blogger. Join us as we delve into Franii’s personal journey within a blended family, offering valuable insights from her day-to-day life with five stepchildren and her own daughter. From navigating different parenting styles to managing diverse rules between households, Franii’s wisdom and advice are drawn from her own very real and lived experiences. Get ready to be inspired by her unique perspective and practical tips from her own lived experience.
Franii Cayley (00:00): There’s nothing worse than reminding them of their comings and goings that they’ve got this week here and this week there. Unfortunately, in a blended family, it’s the reality.
Laura Jenkins (00:09):In The Blend is a podcast series that helps parents navigate life within a blended family. Join me as I speak with experts and guests to get practical advice on how to have a harmonious, blended family life. This series dives deep into the unique dynamics, logistics, and challenges of raising a blended family. From new partners to juggling mixed finances, we will help guide you through it.
Welcome back to Season 3 of In The Blend. Thrilled to be back after a short break and super excited about the full and pretty diverse lineup of great content that we have in store for this season. But before we dive into today’s incredible episode, I did want to let you know that we’ve just released a brand new free downloadable resource, and it’s called 10 Things You Can Do Right Now for More Blended Family Harmony. We’ll link to it in the show notes, or you can access it through any of our socials. And in addition to that, I also wanted to let you know we’re launching a monthly newsletter. Make sure to visit our website and sign up, so you can stay up to date with all things In The Blend.
All right. Let’s jump straight into it. So today, we have a very special guest joining us, the blended family blogger, Franii Cayley, and she has a blog called Not Quite Nuclear. Franii found herself as an instant mom of five when she met her partner and will be sharing the details of her personal journey so far and the insights learned along the way. Get ready for an episode where you’ll get a peak under the hood into a real life blended family. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did chatting with Franii.
Well, welcome, Franii, and thank you so much for joining me today.
Franii Cayley (02:00): Thanks, Laura. Thanks for having me.
Laura Jenkins (02:03): For those who don’t know, Franii, you’re in a blended family yourself, and she has a blog called Not Quite Nuclear. I love the name, I love the name, where she talks-
Franii Cayley (02:17): Some days, it’s very nuclear.
Laura Jenkins (02:20): Oh, I get it. Where she talks all things blended families in the blog. I was compelled to reach out to you, Franii, after I read an article that was published in Mamamia last year, which was titled “10 Things to Be True If You Have a Blended Family,” and I certainly resonated with many of the items on the list and thought this sounds like someone I’ve definitely got a little bit in common with.
Franii Cayley (02:48): Yeah. And I remember starting that article thinking, “Is it just 10? Would they let me go over?” Because sometimes, it feels like we could keep adding.
Laura Jenkins (02:57): Oh, my gosh. I know, I know. Well, look, I have many questions that I’m keen to ask you, but to start us off today, can you tell me a little bit about your blended family and how it came to be?
Franii Cayley (03:10):
Yeah, yeah. So my husband and I have been together for what will be eight years, that’ll be eight years at the end of this year, six years married at the middle of the year. So when we met, he had already had five children with his ex-wife, four boys and one girl, and I had exactly zero children and so much freedom in my life, a huge appetite for travel, a job that I was loving working in, all the flexibility in the world. So for us coming together, it was kind of learning what life looked like. My husband, now husband, he had never had someone else in the kids’ lives, so he was doing learning as well. It wasn’t all me doing the learning. His children at the time, so the boys would’ve been in the order of four, five-ish, and up, and then his daughter would’ve been around 11. So there’s five kids in seven years.
Laura Jenkins (04:28): Wow.
Franii Cayley (04:28): So they’re quite close together. And we now have, it’s easier to talk in the now ages, so we now have, the boys are 12, 13, 16, 17, and the eldest is 20. So yeah, that’s kind of our wild mix. And then we’ve added a little girl, and she’s three.
Laura Jenkins (04:55): Beautiful.
Franii Cayley (04:55): We say that the girls are our bookends.
Laura Jenkins (04:57): Yes.
Franii Cayley (04:58): We’ve got one at each end and the four boys in the middle, and our three-year-old daughter has absolutely everyone where she wants them.
Laura Jenkins (05:05): I love it, I love it. Showered with love, I can imagine.
Franii Cayley (05:14): Absolutely, and ready with commands all the time.
Laura Jenkins (05:21): Well, I can only imagine coming into a situation where you met someone with five children. In my personal situation, I met someone with two children, and I found that challenging enough right at the outset as well.
Franii Cayley (05:34): Yeah, yeah. I’m the youngest of four, my husband’s the youngest of seven, so I think both of us knew a life of crazy and busy and kids in all directions. The irony was that it wasn’t necessarily difficult to have kids around all the time. The biggest difficulty in those early stages was just learning who fit where, what is the new team, and who’s doing their bit, and what does that bit look like.
Laura Jenkins (06:01): Absolutely. Well, look, I’m very interested to know what prompted you to start the blog. Let’s dive in there, because I’m very impressed to see that you’ve pulled that together as a way to share your experience.
Franii Cayley (06:18): Thanks, Laura. It is exactly that. It’s exactly a platform to share experience, because I found lots and lots of content, and I found in those, particularly in the early stages, but honestly, I feel like every season together, we learn a bit more about what this family makeup looks like, anyway. I don’t think you ever nail it. You never go, “Yeah, I know my bit here, and I know your bit here.”
I just feel like the kids move through different seasons, but so do we. We move through different stages in our life, or at the moment, for us, it’s changes in Korea or different ages of kids going into high school or leaving school. I only said goodbye to one of the boys before he’s off to uni in the middle of the day. I’ve gone from working from home without him here to working from home with him here, and we’re relearning, we are relearning our place with each other in this season and what it looks like.
So I think for me, Not Quite Nuclear was really about saying how do we start the conversation, because it’s super lonely some days. Some days, you’re looking for someone to talk to about just the intricacies of the blend, the intricacies of that feels like a parenting moment, but I just went and … And on top of it, I’ve also got this stepmom kind of title while I’m doing that parenting moment with the kid, and I’m not even sure I’ve nailed it. I probably haven’t nailed it. I think there’s doubt in parenting anyway, but you get that extra little seed as a stepparent.
Laura Jenkins (07:55): Definitely.
Franii Cayley (07:56): And so for me, Not Quite Nuclear was really about putting something out there that I would’ve liked to have seen at different stages of parenting, but in the most just human kind of way. It is what it is. Some days, it is not pretty. Some days, we do not get it right. Some days, we think we got it right, and then we go to bed and debrief and go, “We absolutely missed the mark on that.”
But for me, Not Quite Nuclear was, I guess, there’s more and more families that are not nuclear and not always easy to understand. I think even some of my friends said after reading the first blog, “Wow, I’d never thought about that, I’d never thought of those things.” And I’ve even watched some of my own relationship shift with people now wanting to ask questions that maybe felt a bit taboo.
Laura Jenkins (08:49): So it’s opened the door for those conversations. And so what are some of the biggest challenges that you’ve faced, that you’ve perhaps wanted to highlight on the blog? What have been …
Franii Cayley (09:02): Let’s start with four boys in the house. I’m not sure there’s any preparing for that, and certainly not from zero to four.
Laura Jenkins (09:14): No.
Franii Cayley (09:15): We have a lot of conversations that I just never, ever planned would be. If I looked to the future, there’s things that get said, but I never thought those words would fall out of my mouth, but they did. If I think about the challenges, I reckon that what I touched on before, the parenting, which I think you’re doing, and you would know yourself with the situation, you’re parenting your stepchildren, and parenting is really tough, and there’s lots of information about parenting being tough. There’s plenty of blogs and podcasts and forums, and people are talking about the challenges of parenting.
But I reckon facing all of those standard parenting challenges, which are things like kids misusing technology, learning manners, cleaning up after yourselves. I often say to the kids, “I didn’t have housemates until I met you, and Hooley Dooley, I’m not sure I was ready for a housemate. Stop eating this stuff on the third shelf.” No, just kidding. We don’t have labeled shelves. But if you think about share houses, sometimes stepparenting, particularly in the ages that my stepkids are at, we’re going through this shared house stuff.
So if I think about current ages, the challenges look like learning to bring kids through years that are hormone-filled, that are tough anyway for kids. And then the added dimension of being a stepparent is you’re wanting to show them a sense of relativity, that you understand the challenge they’re going through, because you kind of did it. So you want to show some compassion for them in just that human sense of parenting. But you’re always learning where your role is in their bit. So we do a lot of encouraging relationship with their mom, we do a lot of trying to wrap around understanding where they’re at, but at the same time, some parenting issues are just really, really tough.
And I’d like to think that after however many years in anyone’s circumstances, you can be the stepmom who can wrap your arms around one of those boys. But boys themselves go through a change in their requirements for affection at certain ages. This season for me with boys that are pretty well all of them teenage years, I’m learning that they’ve got very, very different needs from me as their stepmom than they did much younger. And trying to adapt, like all parents do, and I think this is that what is parenting versus stepparenting thing? Is this a parenting challenge, or is this a parenting challenge that I’m adding the stepparenting dimension to?
We’re finding that the boys will be challenged by something or upset by something, and my instinct is to want to wrap around them, but I have to find where they are before I do that. I have to work out is this a bit where they need me? Is this a bit where their mom might be best placed or their dad might be best placed? What’s my bit in it? And I think that goes when you say what are the greatest challenges? I think it goes for every age. Each of their ages and the spectrum I’ve seen, you’ve just got to find where does the stepmom fit? And not inverted commas, ‘the stepmom,’ but as their stepmom, where am I here in this scenario?
Laura Jenkins (12:45): Yeah. Oh yeah, I think that’s spot on. I had a fabulous guest on the show a little while back, and her name’s Dr. Lisa Doodson. She’s based in the UK. You’ve probably read some of her books, Franii.
Franii Cayley (13:00): Yes.
Laura Jenkins (13:00): And she’s written How to be a Happy Stepmum, and she talks a lot about that issue of role ambiguity, and what can be so challenging, especially for new stepmoms is coming in and not knowing what their role is. So do I discipline, do I not, do I get involved here, or do I not? I think as the children get older, it gets even more complex because …
Franii Cayley (13:24): Oh, gosh. It so does.
Laura Jenkins (13:25): … that role changes again.
Franii Cayley (13:28): Yeah. I even think about if we break it down to the bits that we’ve lived and understand, I think about me as a child to my mother, and I’m the youngest of four, like I said, not one of us four are the same people, not one of us four are motivated by the same things or respond to the same conversation or discipline or whatever it is. And so I think about that for the kids in our house. I can’t expect to be the same stepmom to each of them. They each need something different from me. Some of them require a real closeness, and others require me to just be around. In those early stages, when you’re learning, gosh, it’s hard not to overdo it. It is so hard not to burn yourself out in the giving. I realize most of us do it, most of us burn out in the giving in those early stages.
Laura Jenkins (14:25): Oh, absolutely, absolutely. And I think you get better at carving out time for yourself. I know I have. And that’s something I’m quite mindful to do now. Even if it’s just an hour a week, I’ve got that pocket of time that’s mine.
Franii Cayley (14:44): I think it’s also when you are adding to the family, so you’re having more children, and in our case, having had our daughter, you can very, very quickly find the burnout. You can very, very quickly learn that trying to move between the newborn and what’s needed and getting kids to soccer and school and all the bits that were life before the newborn, you kind of don’t want any of it to fall over, because you want everyone to get what they need. And then in the middle, you go, “Oh, I’m a bit tired.” What does that hour a week look like, or what does that little bit look like?
And to this day, I am a big fan of I’ll put myself to bed early if I can’t be the best of me. I’ll watch what’s happening in the house, and think, “Okay, we’ve got the little ones in bed, everyone’s fed, pajamas are on, we’re all ready for school tomorrow. The best thing for everyone right now is for me to take some time out.”
Laura Jenkins (15:42): I love it.
Franii Cayley (15:42): I’m a big fan of putting myself to bed.
Laura Jenkins (15:44): Oh, I love it, I love it. I think that’s a great strategy. It sounds to me, from what you’ve described, you’ve got a naturally very warm and nurturing style. I’m curious to know what that dynamic’s been like over the years with your husband, and if you’ve got quite different styles naturally, or how does that play out day-to-day?
Franii Cayley (16:09): So I would say he has a developed, my husband has a developed style. He had time to parent before I came along and understand who he was as a parent. I would also say that parenting side by side has changed his parenting style too, because I think when you compliment one another’s approaches, it does shift you both. I do have a tendency to be very, very empathetic, and my husband always says to me, empathy without boundaries is so hard. “Yeah, mate. I get it, but the kid’s sad, and it’s making me sad. So I hear what you’re saying, but my heart hurts if their heart hurts.”
And when you’ve got lots of hearts really, really close to you, you do have to create some kind of boundaries on not falling into each of their challenges in every day. So my husband certainly has a better capacity to tow a line that says allow each of the kids to work it through, and we’ll help them, we’ll steer them, but we’re not resolving it for them, which I so need, I so need someone who does that alongside me.
But by the same token, I will often need to say, or not often, but I will usually be the one that says, “I don’t think it’s that black and white. I think this is one of those challenges with the kids that we need to look at differently. We need to ask more questions.” I remember we got to the third of the boys in that kind of 12-year-old mark, where things started to shift in our house, and it’s not the same with all kids, and I accept that. But the third of four boys kind of hit 12 and became a little bit more inward-focused and had a different capacity to receive information or be connected or put the laptop down that they get at school or whatever. “Disconnect, my friend. Sit with us and chat.”
He was the third in line before I looked at my husband and said, “Huh, we’re still parenting him as a child, and he’s moving through adolescence. He’s preparing for his teenage years, and we are linking him with the youngest of the boys, and we’re still treating his bedtimes and his privileges and his boundaries, and we’re doing all those things the same.”
It doesn’t kind of matter how many are around, you can always miss something. But in that instance, I was able to say to my husband, “I think we’ve got this. We’re butting heads with him, because we’re actually not giving him the space to do what’s needed.” And when we do conversations like that, when we walk into parenting together, it’s great. We get the opportunity to ask the question of one another, Is this the best we can do, and is this what we think we’ll get a good outcome from?”
Unfortunately with parenting, the majority of parenting needs are proper ambush style. It’s coming at you, and you’ve just got to respond, and that’s a busload getting out from the bus on the corner, piling into the house at once, and everyone wants something. “Franii, can I, Franii, can I, Franii, can I? Hey, Franii, can I, Franii, can I?” And I’m going, “Whoa. I’ve been at home in a box on my own all day, and you’re all talking at once, and it’s way too much for me.”
So I think when I can compare or compliment my husband’s parenting style with mine, it centers around communication, and the majority of times we miss the mark with the kids, it will almost always be we haven’t had a chance to do the conversation before something big. There are three of them driving now, so those types of things create really big differences that can be as simple as, “Did you tell him that he was allowed to drive such and such those 50 kilometers after work and not get home until midnight?” “No, I didn’t.” “Oh. Did he say I did?” “No, he didn’t, but I assumed because he didn’t come home, maybe you gave him permission.” “Oh, dear, where is he?”
So it’s those moments where we go, “If we’d have taken the five minutes out of our day,” which is difficult with what is for us five kids in the house a lot of the time. Two of the boys live here permanently, plus our three-year-old, and the other two move between the houses a week about. So sometimes you don’t have those moments to stop and pull it apart, which again, I think is parenting, not so much stepparenting. I think all parents probably face that.
Laura Jenkins (20:49): Definitely. Especially in those teenage years as well, there’s so many additional challenges.
Franii Cayley (20:57): Absolutely.
Laura Jenkins (20:59): It does sound to me like you and your husband compliment each other really nicely in terms of the way that you approach the various challenges and the day-to-day of parenting as well.
Franii Cayley (21:11): Yeah. Look. Again, there’s no perfect with parenting. I don’t think anyone’s got one of those. But what I do know is when we’re conscious and we’re doing it together, it is a thousand percent easier. But none of it is necessarily easy.
Laura Jenkins (21:29): No. And then you added a three-year-old into the mix as well, so let’s talk a little bit about that as well. So your daughter came along a few years back now.
Franii Cayley (21:41): She did. So my daughter is Mackenzie, and Mackenzie was born in 2019. She had about eight months of life before COVID-19. My stepchildren’s mother is a school teacher, so she was called into fairly high demand during that period, so we homeschooled all of the kids with a nine-month-old. It was a wild ride, because I don’t think anyone can say, “Yeah, we very easily adjusted to being on top of each other 24 hours a day.” We did not. We learned and came through it exceptionally, and tomorrow could do it again, enjoy it, and be much better at it. But it came through pretty quickly for us that shift. And we had kids with laptops on camping tables all through the house and a little baby crawling around, both of us working full-time, my husband and I.
So not all of adding our daughter to our family was really about adding a baby to a family that was already blending. It was timing. It added its own little dimension, and circumstances changed things for all of us. I would say to anyone I had time with all of the kids that I would not normally have, because work would have called, and I wouldn’t have been at home. So we had some bonding moments in that period we would never have got otherwise, which included the kids with Mackenzie, which included having six children finding their space.
One of the real privileges we had when we had Mackenzie was we made a decision during my pregnancy that it would be our baby, so very much about all coming into it together. So the kids were the first to know the gender of the baby. Super important for those four boys, I learned. “We want to know, and it better not be a boy,” was the advice I got. And they had instructions.
Laura Jenkins (23:42): Cute.
Franii Cayley (23:50): Yeah, yeah. Right?
So they had instructions for my husband and I on if it’s a boy, then it has to live upstairs with you and dad and their sister, because we don’t want another boy downstairs. It’s just too many, but if it’s a girl, she can live downstairs. Okay. Can we all just be really, really clear on what happens with a newborn? She won’t be living anywhere but with her mother. We’re not taking her downstairs.
And look, when we told the kids we were pregnant, bless their heart, they all had different questions, and they had a different reaction. But the youngest of my stepchildren, who at the time would’ve been I guess eight, yeah, eight, said, “Wait, so will the baby come to mom’s when we go to mom’s?” And the truth mattered. For him, he was trying to work out where this all fits and what that looks like, and you can imagine the older kids thought that was hilarious.
Laura Jenkins (24:44): Oh, I love it.
Franii Cayley (24:44): And my husband and I explained to him that no, that’s not how it will happen. But there were things you just can’t plan for, right? They’re going to ask questions, and I’m pleased that they felt like they could. So by the time we had Mackenzie, the boys took turns, each Wednesday morning, I would drive them to school, and they took turns at opening the app, what size is your baby compared to a piece of fruit.
Laura Jenkins (25:08): Oh, yes.
Franii Cayley (25:09): Vegetables or whatever it was. And so they got to be the first to find out what the fruit or vegetable of the week was, and they would tell me. And so we did these little things, and they came to a couple of the scans. But most importantly, when Mackenzie was born, we brought the kids in, and we asked that on the day she was born, our immediate family, so parents and siblings, would come and say hi. And then because I’d had an emergency caesarian, we knew we had five days, and we locked it down to just us. So the kids never cued for a cuddle except for with each other. We just found that space to just do our own time.
And look, it wasn’t particularly popular with lots of friends and family, who love those first newborn cuddles, but it was so what we needed. And what I know about family, generally speaking, including our family, we’re not quite nuclear, what I know about it is sometimes you just have to communicate what you need. And what we needed for that point in our lives was for my five stepchildren to feel like they weren’t trying to compete either with this baby for time with their dad and I or with other people for a cuddle. And so we were just all kind of finding our groove.
Laura Jenkins (26:30): How beautiful.
Franii Cayley (26:32): Look, it was interesting. Since then, she’s added the most spectacular dimension. She’s a full spirit. So I watch her now and I think, “My gosh, your brother taught you to say that or do this or whatever it is.” But at the same time, she’s got so many bits of all of us, and I love hearing the kids say, “Oh, my gosh. She just looked like this photo I’ve seen of one of them.” And they’ll see the likeness in some of her features or mannerisms with something they remember of each other or they do now of each other or a photo they’ve seen, and I think it’s really nice that they can find that space with one another.
But it’s truly isn’t always easy. A three-year-old and a 12-year-old, who are just the best of friends, there’ll come a time where whatever age she is and whatever age he is may not compliment each other, as is the case with any gaps like that with kids. And I think just finding the bond between them now will make those years a little bit less painful, hopefully. But what the three-year-old wants to do is not always want what the other kids want to do, so they make a lot of concessions. They go to the playground, and then we find ways to do activities that are more suited to their ages and things they want to do. But I think it’s just being aware that 3 and 17 don’t play the same way.
Laura Jenkins (28:05): No.
Franii Cayley (28:07): But they’re beautiful together, and give them their own space, and they’ll find what their relationship is and how it works. But give a 17-year-old room to be 17 too.
Laura Jenkins (28:16): Yep, yep. No, I identify with that. We’ve got a 14-year-old teenager at the moment and a 12-year-old, and then the youngest is four and seven. So we often refer to them as the big kids and the little kids, and often the big kids don’t want to do what the little kids are doing. And sometimes, they make those concessions, and then other times, Matt and I make concessions, and we divide and conquer, and then we’ll all meet up later on. You figure it out.
Franii Cayley (28:51): You so do, you do. You find your groove, and you find what works for each of those kids. What one of them is interested in, I can guarantee you the next is not. So we’ll find three of them outside chalk painting on the driveway, and two of them are inside with a guitar and a piano, not even remotely interested in what’s going on out there. And tomorrow, it might look different.
Laura Jenkins (29:16): Yep, yep. It keeps it interesting, doesn’t it, Franii?
Franii Cayley (29:20): Yeah, it keeps it interesting.
Laura Jenkins (29:22): How do you manage conflicts? Because I know that in any family, and especially with siblings, sibling rivalry can come up, and there can be moments where these two aren’t getting on and these two are, and then the next day, it’s all switched around. How do you go about dealing with conflict as it may arise in the family unit?
Franii Cayley (29:49): Yeah. I’ll tell you some interesting stories. Well, I think they’re interesting, because I’m learning as I go. What I’m learning at the moment with the two boys that do live here full time and, of course, with Mackenzie is there’s an element of parenting what’s under your roof. So I find that my parenting approach with the two boys that live here can at times be somewhat different than the two that come week about, and that’s for me to reconcile and, I think in anyone’s circumstances, find out what that is and what drives that.
Often, it’s opportunity I find with the boys that there will be conflicts between them. They’re at an age now where it starts to get a bit funny when there’s a conflict between them, because at 16 and 17, they can resolve it between themselves. They’re either tired, there’s a defiance, “It was definitely my shirt, and you’ve definitely taken it and know that that size was mine.” They tend to be very, very different types of conflicts.
In all honesty, at this age, the conflict is usually mine, which is another thing I’m learning as I go. The conflict is usually that … We sat the boys down just this last week, all four of them, and being the only girl, other than our three-year-old daughter living in this house, having to say to them, “When guests come to this bathroom, you need to have some respect for yourself, because that hygiene is not okay.” And so I find that there’ll be a conflict that arises that is often created from a standard that we’re setting in the house, something that says that’s not how we do things here.
And usually, I feel like I’m the one who wants it enforced the most. I’m here the most, and I can see it the most. And there’s stuff that, if I can shut their bedroom door, 90% of the time, I’m willing to ignore what happened in there or whatever state they’ve left it in. But where there’s common areas in the house, I find we create a bit of conflict, or I’ll create a conflict that says, “Nope, I’m done there. It’s not going to stay like that anymore,” or, “Don’t put the empty milk back,” all the standard I’m more than three-years-old stuff.
Laura Jenkins (32:13): Totally.
Franii Cayley (32:15): I’ve not done the dishwasher properly, or I’ve not helped with that thing. Or yes, I did jam the last thing in the bin, so that now the bin is broken, because I pushed it so hard to squeeze the last thing in there. I find in the sense of conflicts, it will usually be about a standard or an expectation that in this house I have with them, and oftentimes, it might be different at their moms. And that, for me, has always been an interesting conflict, the one that says, “You’re being so cautious to not say, ‘We don’t do that here,’ in a way that says, ‘And I know you do it there.'” Being able to say, “In our house, we do things like this.”
And there’s nothing worse than reminding them of their comings and goings that they’ve got this week here and this week there. But sometimes, unfortunately, in a blended family, it’s the reality. It’s not an avoidable or a taboo topic. The reality is, “I understand you’re going to be living with different rules. Here’s our not-negotiables, though. These are the things that really matter here,” and finding the way to say that I find is often the root cause of conflict. It’s just they’ve come from doing things a certain way for a week, and you do that tuck-back-in period when they first come back, and you reestablish the boundary.
Laura Jenkins (33:39): Yeah. Oh, I identify with a lot of what you’re saying there, and I think you’re so right about the delivery as well. It really is important to focus on how you say it, because you’re well within your rights to say it. It’s your house, so it’s important.
Franii Cayley (34:00): But it’s also disharmony, genuine disharmony if you leave it, because oftentimes, it will chew at me, like the toilet incident. Eventually, “I’ve said it enough, I’ve said it enough. No, I’m done. You’re all going to sit down, and we’re having a stage one intervention here. This is serious.”
Laura Jenkins (34:17): Oh, I love it. We’re almost at time here. Just before we wrap up, I’d love to ask what advice would you give to others who might be listening to this, and just where you were seven years ago, eight years ago, when you and your now husband met? What advice would you give to someone in that situation?
Franii Cayley (34:44): Interesting, because it’s probably going to sound conflicting in the first instance. Be careful what you read when you’re looking for advice, because some of it can actually diminish or feel like it’s diminishing your own feelings. And I say that with caution, because it is easier to tell the full story, and I know in my own blogs, it’s easier to tell the full story and how it ended and that you’re okay. You kind of give the okay mandate at the end.
Some situations don’t resolve like that, and we do a lot of not so much protecting the kids from what is a continued strained relationship between us with their mom. I saw you had a podcast recently with two houses, and my husband communicates with his ex-wife on the two houses, and it is the only means of communication between them. So it’s a very line-in-the-sand relationship.
And as kids move through different ages, I think you can find they will very easily lean into whichever age they are, the traits of that age. So there’s some of those teenage years that can be very self-focused, and if self is best fed over at this house versus that house, they’re still teenagers in this situation. If that’s their bent, I can get better here, I’m going to go there.
So what we’ve found is instead of feeding into the dialogue or the narrative of how neither of the families are blending, and we are not … Where they have very much have a team at their mom’s house and a team here, we’ve only ever asked that we speak kindly of their mom in this house. But moving through the teenage years, they form their own views. And often, we’ll correct, “You don’t get to make that throwaway statement here. It’s not okay to say that about your mom. She’s your mom.” And it might be as simple as a phone gets thrown on the bed, “Mom’s so annoying.” “Hang on a minute, hang on a minute. I don’t want to give you permission to speak about her like that because you know that we don’t have a connected relationship.”
So I think my first advice is, it’s a bit of a mixed piece, it’s one that says, “Be careful what you’re reading, because some people are doing this really well, and you may never, you may never, ever have a relationship where all parents can sit at the table together or even pull up in the driveway of the house or communicate issues about the kids. It might always feel like this.
But what you will do is find what you are okay with. You’ll find you are okay in amongst it. You’ll find the way to communicate when you’re not with your respective partner. You’ll find the place that fits right for you with your stepchildren, and you’ll probably get it wrong in those first few seasons of, “I’ve either overstepped, I’m way too involved, and I don’t know how to come back from here, because now the pressure I’ve put on myself is so great. I don’t know how to retract. I can’t do this anymore. I’m burning out.” Whatever it is, it might not look, in seven-plus years’ time, it might not look the same as a relationship as it did or it does right now, where you feel like you’re giving a lot and getting nothing back.
And then probably, there is a lot of information starting to boil now. As you would know, you’re finding more and more people connecting in this space. No two situations are the same. None, zip, nada, not one. There is not one situation, because there is only one Laura and there is only one Franii, and you’ve got Matt and I’ve got Malin. They’re not going to do all of the same things, all of the same ways, all of the time. In our own situation, we have four really distinct humans, you and Matt and me and Mal, and if I tried to stand alongside you and create this linear path that said, “Hey, I’m doing this thing today,” and I’m feeling like that, and you gave me your example, mine might not look like that. We don’t have the same variables.
So it can be really easy to either feel like you are doing really well compared to, or you’re doing really poorly compared to. I think if you can drop the comparison and just find comfort sometimes in the advice, but don’t look for it to tell you what your next move will look like or how the biological parent in your situation might respond, because it is so different all of the time. And to this day, it is different for me. And as I said, it’s different based on where I’m at, where the kids are at in their lives, their ages, but also their mom has her own journey too, and sometimes it’s different.
Laura Jenkins (39:32): Such good advice, Franii. I think that’s absolutely spot on. And yeah, there are no two families that are the same and there are no normal families anymore, either. What is a normal family?
Franii Cayley (39:46): Yeah, I know, right? And it’s also easy to fall into the negative narrative, because if you are feeling it, you’re overwhelmed in those early stages, it can be really easy to go, “I’m being treated like this. I’m being treated like the evil stepmother or whatever it is. I’m being outcast. School feels like an uncomfortable place for me, because they’re not my kids, and I haven’t done this schooling journey or whatever.” And there’s chapter upon chapter, you name it, people are living it somewhere in the world right now in their blending journey.
I think you can easily run the negative narrative, and that’s where I would layer that caution that says, “Be careful what you read and the way you ingest that and the advice that you sit on or chew through. Is it serving you? Is it going to help you feel better where you are, or are you just finding other people who are a bit cranky today as well?” And if that’s what you need, great, but staying there is just never going to serve us. It is a tough journey to parent. It is an extremely tough journey to stepparent.
Laura Jenkins (40:48): So good. Thank you, Franii. I’ve really enjoyed our chat today.
Franii Cayley (40:53): Thank you.
Laura Jenkins (40:54): Franii, where can people go if they’d like to connect with you or check out the blog as well?
Franii Cayley (40:59): Yeah, interesting, interesting, and I didn’t touch on this, but my blog has been having a little rest. Again, because we’re moving kids through, basically through to adulthood at the moment, those teenage to adulthood years, and really trying to respect them, finding their place in what we share and what we don’t share. And so at the moment I’m still kind of lamenting or I’m chewing on my own content around what feels good for them in some of their most uncomfortable years, so making sure.
I had a story recently about one boy trapping another in the shower when he did a fart. Really, really funny when it happened, really, really funny when I shared it. And then it took him a few months to say, “Actually, if my friends found that, I’m not sure I like it.” And so we’re just learning what does sharing look like in this season? These conversations are still so healthy. So the blog is Not Quite Nuclear. You’ll find it on Instagram and Facebook, the handle, Not Quite Nuclear. Reach out anytime, anytime at all. More than happy to have a conversation. I think we’re all riding a wild horse, no matter which stage we’re at, so it always helps to have someone to talk to.
Laura Jenkins (42:15): Absolutely. All right. Thanks so much.
Franii Cayley (42:18): Thank you.
Laura Jenkins (42:19): Thanks for listening In The Blend podcast. The show notes for this episode are available at intheblend.com.au, and if you like what you heard, be sure to subscribe and please rate and review in your podcasting app. You can also follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn.