BLENDING A FAMILY
When you fall in love for the second time it’s not just your own affections that need consideration. JAI BREITNAUER looks at the challenges of joining two families together
How to navigate life when two families combine
Emma Mason was working as a restaurant manager in Mangawhai when her relationship with the father of her daughter, Natasha, ended. It was acrimonious at first and tricky to navigate the life of a single, working mum caring for a two-year-old and the difficulties associated with the split. Thankfully, she knew someone else in the same boat – her boss, Kris Mason. “I’ve known Kris, an executive chef, for seven years, and although he’d always been my boss we had become good friends,” says Emma. “He and his partner had split up at about the same time.” Although Kris’ split was much more amicable, Emma found it was good to have someone in a similar boat to talk to, and they began spending more time together. “We’d both been single for just under a year when we got together,” says Emma. “It was a slow progression, because we were already close. As I’d been working for Kris since Tasha was four months old, she had always known him, he was already a part of our lives.” Despite Kris and Tasha’s already good relationship, Emma admits Tasha, then three, was a bit stand-offish when she began to understand things had progressed. “When I stayed over at Kris’ for the first time, Tasha came with me. I wanted it to be natural, and for her to be a part of the process of us becoming a couple.” Over the next few weeks Emma says Tasha was quieter than normal, and not as keen to hang out with Kris. “She didn’t want to go into the kitchen at the restaurant, and when Kris spoke to her she was really quiet,” explains Emma. “Kris loves kids, and is a rough and tumble sort of guy, but Tasha wasn’t playing with him.”
Although a little worried at the time, Emma says this quiet phase only lasted a few weeks and soon Tasha’s relationship with Kris was back to normal. Retrospectively, Emma thinks that some of the animosity between her and Tasha’s father might have influenced her daughter’s reaction, and as Emma’s relationship with her ex improved, so did Tasha’s relationship with Kris. It also helped that Kris had two girls and the older one, Alyah, now 10, was friends with Tasha, now seven. “They knew each other from school, and had hung out at the restaurant. They got on brilliantly,” says Emma. “Kris’ younger daughter, Florence, is only five now. She was still a baby really when we got together, and has just accepted Tasha as part of her life.” The strong and enduring relationship between the three girls, even after Alyah and Florence moved to Auckland with their mum last year, has been a blessing for Kris and Emma, who have all three girls together at their home in Mangawhai every other weekend. “Kris moved into my house, which has four bedrooms, so they can have a room each,” says Emma. “That was good for Tasha, as there was very little change. She didn’t need to get used to a new house, or room or school, her life just carried on, but with Kris there as well.” Although Emma also had a good relationship with Alyah and Florence from before she and Kris were together, there were a few sticky moments with Alyah early on. “For a long time Alyah wouldn’t accept any authority from me at all,” says Emma, who felt that the best approach
‘I made the choice to leave the discipline up to Kris for quite a while. It was over about a year that everything became normal’
was to step back and let Kris parent his own children. “I made the choice to leave the discipline up to Kris for quite a while. It was a natural progression – over a period of about a year everything became normal.” Again, Emma thinks that this situation was largely influenced by the relationships of the adults in the situation, and noted that Mangawhai is a small town and so everyone knows what is going on. “There was much less gossip than I expected!” laughs Emma. “But still, it did take Kris’ ex some time to be comfortable with our relationship, and that may have influenced Alyah, who was old enough to understand what was happening.” As Kris and Emma’s ex-partners have moved on to new relationships, Emma says they’ve had to be aware of the influence that could have on the dynamic. “Tasha’s dad’s new partner is Tasha’s old daycare teacher,” says Emma. “It’s good because I know her, and Tasha knows her already, and although she was a bit confused that Daddy was dating her teacher, they get on well. That was a real weight off my mind.” In Auckland, Alyah and Florence have two new step-sisters.
“Thankfully, there has been no jealousy on Tasha’s side about that,” says Emma. “I can see how that could happen though. Sometimes one of Kris’ girls might say, ‘Well my other step-sister does this’, but Tasha takes it in her stride. She also has lots of cousins and friends so isn’t short of playmates when Kris’ girls aren’t here.” Emma feels lucky that the girls are able to communicate with each other well, play together and genuinely enjoy each other’s company. “Because Tasha is in the middle, she moves between the other two,” says Emma. “Alyah is very creative and crafty, and they will often sit and make things together. Florence is a bit more of a tomboy; she and Tasha enjoy rough and tumble games. Often you will find all three of them playing with Lego together for hours. It’s lovely.” For Emma and Kris, blending their families has been relatively smooth and Emma’s advice to any couples in the same situation is to keep your children in the loop. “Kids aren’t stupid – don’t keep them in the dark. It’s a major challenge and you want them to get along,” says Emma, who worries that secrets can breed resentment. “Introduce them early, give them time to get their head around it all. Make it normal, so then it will just be normal.”
‘Kids aren’t stupid – don’t keep them in the dark. It’s a major challenge and you want them to get along... Make it normal, so then it will just be normal’
Kris and Emma with their children Florence, Tasha and Alyah.