In this episode of In The Blend, we sit down with Sydney-based psychologist, couple and family therapist Sian Khuman to gain valuable insights into the unique challenges faced by biological parents in blended families. With years of experience working closely with families, our guest sheds light on the common hurdles faced by biological parents, such as navigating co-parenting relationships and supporting their children through the transition. Join us as we delve into the expert advice and strategies Sian shares to help biological parents foster healthy dynamics within their blended families and find the support they need.
Sian Khuman (00:01): Becoming a blended family can be a really wonderful experience. It can create bigger family, it can provide more relationships and connections at the same time to do it. There is so much work involved. It’s really important as a biological parent that just because you’ve talked about something once doesn’t mean that that’s okay now. And it’s fine cuz every stage of the coming together as children get older, it needs to still be re-looked at re-examined rediscussed to see how they’re going. And always checking in. How are you feeling? How are you going, how are you finding this? How’s this going for you? And it may feel like to the child, oh, you know, mom, dad, like, gimme a break. But it gives a bridge and an expectation that I care about you. I understand this is hard for you, or this is an adjustment. I’m always here and nothing is too hard to discuss. Nothing is too off topic. We are here together. Doing this together
Laura Jenkins (01:00): 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.
(01:28): Welcome back to In The Blend, a podcast dedicated to helping you navigate the beautiful complexities of blended family life. I’m your host, Laura Jenkins, and today we have a special guest joining us, Sian Khuman, who is a seasoned psychologist and couple family therapists based in Sydney with extensive experience in understanding the unique dynamics of blended families. In this episode, we will be exploring the biological parents’ perspective in blended families, delving into the challenges they face, and uncovering some strategies to help them navigate these complexities. So if you are a biological parent or you’re partnered with somebody who is, get ready to gain valuable insights and plenty of practical advice. Well, welcome Sian, and thank you so much for being here today.
Sian Khuman (02:19): Oh, a pleasure, Laura. It’s nice to be here. Thank you for having me on the show.
Laura Jenkins (02:23): Sian, you’re a Sydney based psychologist working in private practice, and you’ve got extensive knowledge and experience in relationship couple and family therapy, and you’ve also managed the relationship counselling program at Relationships Australia. So no doubt you’ve seen all sorts of scenarios over the years. As a psychologist, what have you learned about this unique family dynamic over the course of your career?
Sian Khuman (02:49): Yes, thank you, Laura. So, something biggest families. Families that, firstly there’s a whole myriad of ways that a family can be blended and it’s not just two separated parents coming together with, with their children. You can have a number of different blended families where one person comes and joins a parent with children or you decide to come together with some children, have your own children. There’s a number of different ways that a family can be blended and that there are so many common themes at the same time. Everyone’s very unique in the way that they’ve done it. And so it’s really important as a blended family to really consider the unique ways that your family is blended and approach it through that uniqueness.
Laura Jenkins (03:55): Absolutely. I know they, they certainly come in all shapes and sizes and I think that’s what makes it so challenging is that there is no rule book, there’s no handbook, and there’s no one size fits all here.
Sian Khuman (04:09): And that’s the thing that I was really thinking about when we were coming together to talk was that there is no set and forget in blended families.
Laura Jenkins (04:17): No, absolutely not. So I want to focus on the biological parent in particular. In your experience, what are some of the most common challenges that the biological parent can face in blended families? And what are some of the ways that you can help them navigate the issues?
Sian Khuman (04:36): A few of the main challenges or the most common challenges that I see for biological parents, the first is their keeping the relationship with their children and while also being inclusive of the other members that have, that are part of the family. So there’s always the balance of wanting to make sure that there is time and quality time with the biological parents’, children, and making sure that that is really given a lot of care and consideration while also getting the balance of not putting that too strongly in that camp, but also having time as well for the new partner or new children. And getting that balance right. It’s a really, really challenging scale as such. And so that I find is probably one of the most common challenges. And one of the most important challenges. And then the second challenge I find is that the the, how much of your previous ways of doing things in your, in your family system do you bring into your new family? And how do you do that? Do you change the routines and rules expectations or do you bring in what you’ve done previously and hope that the other groups or family, family members who, who you are living with now or working, you know, have as a system now that you hold those old expectations and have them join them or you renegotiate them.
Laura Jenkins (06:24): I know that having two different houses that kids are going between can also can also add some stress on the biological parent. And then factors like the biological parent going on to then have another child with their new partner as well. So yeah, there’s, there’s just, like we said earlier, there’s no one size fits all here. And I can imagine there’d, there’d be all sorts of different challenges dependent on the particular situation, but I agree that that would be a real, a really common one. What are some of the ways that biological parents can help their children adjust to the new blended family situation? So you, you just mentioned the traditions, which I think is, is a really important one. And maintaining those where you can are there any others that you can suggest?
Sian Khuman (07:14): Becoming a blended family can be a really wonderful experience. It can create a more close or bigger family. It can provide more relationships and connections at the same time. To do it. There is so much work involved and that work involved, you have to almost think about that. You have to over extend the work. You always have to be thinking, well, you know, I’ve gotta do this, have everything discussed, and I have to go over it and I have to keep coming back to it. And I have to keep checking and seeing how things are going that, as I said before, there’s no set and forget you can’t, that it’s really important as a biological parent that just because you’ve talked about something once doesn’t mean that that’s okay now. And it’s fine. Cause every stage of the coming together as children get older, it needs to still be re-looked at reexamined rediscussed to see how they’re going and always checking in and checking in.
(08:22): How are you feeling? How are you going, how are you finding this? How’s this going for you? And it may feel like to the, the child, oh, you know, mum, dad, like, gimme a break. But it gives there a, a bridge and an and an expectation that I care about you. I understand this is hard for you or this is an adjustment and that I’m gonna be there for you. If anything needs to be discussed or anything needs to be worked through together, I’m always here and nothing is too hard to discuss. Nothing is too off topic. We’re here together, doing this together.
Laura Jenkins (08:57): I really like that. And it’s a good reminder to to not just set and forget. And you’ve, you’ve really got to keep it top of mind that that open dialogue and that that check-in conversation. So how do you help biological parents navigate co-parenting relationships with their ex-partner or even potentially their partner’s ex-partner? Because I know that that can put a lot of strain on the relationship between the biological parent and their, their new partner or their their children. So what, what tips would you offer to families who are struggling with this issue?
Sian Khuman (09:36): Yes, Laura, that is such a tricky one. And if they’re, if you’re in a blended family and the previous partners in good relationship with yourself and your new partner and the other side as well, then you’re doing, you know, it’s, it makes a really big difference. Because when all parents and all adults can get on and they can work through and discuss things that are coming up as they do step by step in everyone’s growth and lives, then it makes a really it allows for everyone to just keep going and getting on with life. What is difficult is when co-parenting relationship is tense or acrimonious, and it’s difficult to have the hard conversations or any conversation around things like if they’re wanting to change schools or if there’s needs to be a different dietary requirement, or you want to talk about screen time or bedtime or who, who you feel comfortable with in terms of babysitters or being looked after or all those things that are, can be really important conversations for kids and for parents knowing that your kids are in good hands and that, that you’re both working together.
(11:12): So it’s really tough when you can’t have those conversations. And in terms of tips for how to manage that co-parent relationship the most important is to keep the children front and center. This is about the children, not about us. And that if we can hold the children’s interest as the number one focus and we have to really put aside our own emotional views, responses that we have about the other parent and just focus on what is important for the children and what we need to discuss around the children, then that’s the best way of approaching it. And I know it’s really, really hard at times because that is very caught up with each parent’s view about how the other parent parents or issues that they may have had in the relationship previously. So it’s a tricky, it’s a tricky thing to do.
(12:07): However, however, it’s the most important thing to do as well. And if you, and it’s key to keeping it child focused. And it can be really difficult for a parent coming in to a family system and having their partner dealing with their ex and it being difficult and knowing where to, to sit on that continuum. And usually best word of you know, best way of approaching it is to let them both manage it themselves and not get involved. And also seek out if you need to mediation and support. Often in the practice we see couples who have separated and we do post separated therapy with them where we do work through different issues that they need to discuss in that post separated family system that they’re in. And that can really help because sometimes mediation is just about the logistics and sometimes what gets in the way of working through a logistics is that there’s some other issue that’s holding strong underneath and some, and you need to work through that to be able to come to an agreement about a logistical issue or a decision that they need to make.
(13:43): So seeking some type of family therapy can be helpful too.
Laura Jenkins (13:47): So having the two go hand in hand there.
Sian Khuman (13:50): Yes, exactly. Yeah.
Laura Jenkins (13:52): And just coming back to the point you made about the new partner who might be finding it difficult, that there’s that conflict going on between the biological parent and their ex-partner, your advice is for them just to take a step back and to really let the, the biological parent manage that, manage that ex-partner and to the, the best of their ability leave their new partner out of those interactions. Is there, is there anything else that you would recommend a new partner do to help help them cope with how it might be making them feel? If there’s, there’s tension or a big mediation or you know, a big dispute going on?
Sian Khuman (14:40): Yes, absolutely. Well, firstly probably seeking counselling themselves so that there is a place to speak about the frustrations and the challenges they may have in a, in a, in a safe, private, confidential environment so that they can work through that and get support. I think the other thing is that for them to understand that probably the children are experiencing what’s going on with their parents too, and that the children’s behaviour may be a little more disrupted or needy or may even find it difficult to connect with them because of their challenges and seeing their parents having difficulties or feeling a divided loyalty already between the two parents. So not taking it personally if the children are not as warm or not not as easily wanting to have a relationship with you that it’s usually not the per, it’s not usually personal, but it’s actually more their feeling of, of where they sit within their family system and possibly connecting with, with their parents’ new partner, maybe not feeling safe enough to.
Laura Jenkins (16:07):
Yeah, I think that’s spot on. And it’s really about remembering that there’s all of those other factors going on and, and as you say, not taking it personally. So let’s talk about some of the, the key factors that contribute to successful blended family relationships then, and from that biological parents’ perspective, how can they help facilitate these positive dynamics?
Sian Khuman (16:34): All right, so firstly, plan it, work it through, have a clear plan of how it’s gonna happen, and that means including discussing it with your ex-partner when you do move into blended a blended family and moving in together, discuss it with your children, working out how it’s gonna work, explaining it clearly, working out who’s gonna sleep where, even having that very clear visual and structural plan, discussing all aspects of it. So in terms of how are the house rules in terms of what do we expect for the kids in terms of chores, for example, is homework expectations gonna change, or technology time gonna change, or quality time that we have, is that gonna change or stay the same? Are our routine, like do we, do we have dinner together? How is that gonna work?
(17:35): And have it, and have, have those discussions with the children and have them ask questions. Ask them if anything any o any other things that they think of that they wanna know about or wonder about. Will, you know, drop offs, pickups, change activities, change, all of those things. Two is always keep communication open. The message of saying, we can talk about anything, no topic is too hard to discuss, no, no request or no worry or no stress is too hard to talk through and to face three is that we can control only what we can control. So as a biological parent, you can only control what’s in your family structure that you’re, that you have and you’re in. You have no control about what your ex-partners doing with your children or with, you know, with your children, yes, in their family home. You can have some level of influence if you’re able to discuss it, but you can really can only control what you can control and and making sure as well that you have one on one time with your children, your biological children, making sure that that stays in the mix.
Laura Jenkins (19:02): Such good, such good tips there. We’ve had guests on the show who’ve spoken about each of those different topics, pretty much all of those topics, and it’s nice to hear them wrapped up there together in, in one summary of things that people should be thinking about because I I completely agree with, with what you’ve suggested there. If there’s a situation where the biological parent is just really struggling and they’re perhaps not responsive to seeking professional help is there anything that you would suggest that they do to or any resources that they could go to to help them through this process and help them shift to a potentially happier place?
Sian Khuman (19:55): Yes, yes, absolutely. I mean, there, there are parenting after separation courses that are run by many NGOs like Relationships Australia or Catholic Care or Anglicare, where they provide groups. And usually it’s a six week group for parents to attend. I think they have some day and some night courses where you come together as a group and talk about the different aspects of parenting once separated, and it’s an opportunity to hear from other parents as well what they’re going through or tips or suggestions. And it’s not so therapy. Like you’re not talking about your own experience as much unless you want to, but there’s, you know, there’s only a small amount of time to talk through your experiences. So it’s not a full therapy process, it’s more about a group that’s sharing and talking through together. And that can be a very supportive group and a supportive way of, you know being in a separated parent position.
There’s another there’s a number of books that you can read about Parenting after Separation and blended families as well as a website called children Beyond Dispute, which all looked at how to focus on the children in a separated family. And and then there’s another course called Back on Track as well which is, has resources for how to get back on track after separating and focusing on on children as well. There’s probably one other fa another book called Strengthening Your Stepfamily by Einstein and Albert, which also has a lot of fantastic step-by-step skills and, and ideas that really talks about that planning, how do you actually approach it, how to troubleshoot different, different challenges that might come up.
Laura Jenkins (22:14):
That’s so helpful, Sian thank you very much for that. We will absolutely link to all of those in the show notes as well so that listeners can, can easily find those tools. I really like the idea or the message about planning just to come back to that. And I know that’s been been a theme that’s popped up a couple of times in our, our chat. It is such an important thing when it comes to blended families in my personal experience, that’s been the case as well. And we’ve, we’ve actually had a guest on the show who, who spoke about logistics in blended families a couple of seasons ago and really delved into the detail around planning and, and how you can set up systems that are gonna help to reduce some of the stress in particular when you’ve got children living between two houses. But, but you’re absolutely right. It’s, it’s really planning everything from that initial transition of becoming a blended family right through to the ongoing functioning of that family. And in my own personal experience, I think it’s really about tweaking and refining that as you go as well.
Sian Khuman (23:25): Yes, definitely. Yes. And like for example, if I could just share an example of one, one tricky situation that I helped a family with and I’ll keep, keep details very minimal so that there’s no identification is that one family I worked with they had children two, so two, two separated parents coming together and bringing both sets of children into a stepfamily structure. And two, each of their, one of each of their children were the same age. And one of the parents ex-partners was someone who was very liberal and open with technology, didn’t mind what type time, how much of technology their children had. And so when the child then came to have time with, with this step family, they expected that that would be the same case.
(24:39): However, the other family that they’d joined with had very strict rules about technology and that phones had to be handed in at 9:00 AM 9:00 PM and there was no phones or computers after 9:00 PM in the house, in people’s rooms that certain social media sites were not allowed, things like that. And so you had two children the same age with very, very different rules around something very key to every parent and child’s discussions and pertinent issues at the time. And it was very challenging because the parents in the stepfamily were worried if they put stripped rules for everyone that then the child, children from the more relaxed or more relaxed parents technology family would not want to stay with the family, the step family and be less likely to come and spend time because they felt like the rules were too harsh in the New Step family.
(25:54): So that was really difficult for both, both parents and the stepfamily to negotiate to decide, well, how are we gonna do this and do we set up and how do we do about it? And we talked through it and they actually got together with the children and had a conversation and said, we know that these are the two rules. What can we do? And actually put it to the, to the, the kids and the family, they were all teenagers, so they were age appropriate to have that conversation and they were able to come up with a, a system that would work for them. So that was a really good way of approaching it rather than trying to be harsh and just come up with a rule as parents together, they had a bit of a sense of what they were gonna say yes or no to, or what would be in the, you know, open for discussion points and what what was still gonna be important to hold a line on. But allowing the, the children to have a say in some of the rules and making it up allowed the family to feel like, oh, we are actually a family. We are actually coming together and building our rules and creating a family how we want it to be. And that was a very strengthening exercise and process that, that allowed the family to work through quite a tricky situation.
Laura Jenkins (27:11): I really like that. And I think it’s a good reminder a about that open communication piece and when your kids are old enough to include them in that discussion, absolutely. Why not ask them what, what they, how they think and, and what’s going on in their, their heads and their hearts. Well, we are at time here. Thank you so much for our chat today. I have thoroughly enjoyed our discussion.
Sian Khuman (27:37): I have too thank you.
Laura Jenkins (27:39): Where can people go if they would like to connect with you or get in touch?
Sian Khuman (27:44): Yes, absolutely. So we’re a practice in Annandale and we do face-to-face sessions as well as online sessions, www.relationshipandfamilypractice.com.
Laura Jenkins (27:56):
We’ll link to that in the show notes. Thanks again and have a wonderful day.
Sian Khuman (28:01): Thanks Laura. Thank you.
Laura Jenkins (28:04): Thanks for listening to the 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.