After falling in love with and having getting married to a man with children, Wendy Malinda encountered several concerns. She tells Munde Okuna, journalist at The Standard Magazine, how she chose to share what she learned and experienced from her tribulations by starting an organisation to lend other women a hand in blended families:
“I feel I was very naive about what marrying a man with children included. I assumed the kids would immediately like me and we would form one large, happy family but I was wrong. It snatches you a lot of effort and time to come to the point where your step-children can put up with you.
Sometimes just a moment when you think you have made progress to the relationship, the kids would do something reminding you that they will never love you like their biological mother. I have learned lowering my expectations.” says Wendy Malinda, the founder of Living In-Step Family, an organisation that coaches married people with children from previous relationships.
“Sometimes when you are young, you fall madly in love and think you have met your soulmate, so you start building a life together and only when growing older and realising that the perfect union which you dreamt of is not so perfect,” this is what Wendy explains happened between her husband and his ex. Despite the fact he and the mother of his children never got wedded, they had two children. They drifted apart after few years and each went their own ways.
Shortly afterwards in the year of 2011, Wendy met her husband, Tony, 41 now. They started out as friends first but then fell in love. Wendy, 31 now, says she was enjoying a thriving career in IT and marriage was never really something on her mind. They two together soon fell in love, started discussing about marriage and then the wedding bells rang in 2014.
“My spouse used to talk about his kids even before we started dating and although I had never met them, they seemed to be great children – you know every parent says their children are the best. Even when our relationship turned serious, I didn’t meet the children, and it did bother me but I am not so pushy so I said to myself he will let me meet them one day. A day after dinner, he said we could go home and meet them and when I did, it was somehow very clumpsy. There was no decorous introduction, I just introduced myself as the kids' daddy’s friend and then a whole awkward of silence following after that. The kids went watching TV and that was that. There were a lot of awkward silences followed by and although it was unpleasant, I got used to it somehow and the kids also recognised I never disappear after that.”
Wendy has two step-children, a 16-year-old boy and a 13-year-old girl. She says the girl warmed up to her quickly because “being young and same gender, I could connect with her like a mate and I seem up to speed with kinds of things which young girls like. For instance, I know who Justin Bieber is, so I thought she would see me as a cool buddy but that didn’t occur. It took time. With the boy it was worse because, as the older one, he seemed to have felt the need of playing the role of a guardian and to stay faithful to his mother.
So sometimes if we are having a fun activity and his mother would call, his tone of voice would all-of-a sudden change and he behaves as if he is not enjoying spending time with me. At first that used to hurt me but I realised I should not take it personally. Children get conflicted and they don’t want to make their biological mother feel a step-mother could replace them.”
Two steps forward then three steps back
Wendy says once she had a chance to chat with her step-daughter about how her day was going and it seemed they were making significant progress, so in the end she said: “I love you.” Wendy says the silence was awkward afterwards, “The silence that followed was deafening and it seemed like lasting forever.” I made a note in my head that never says that once again.
The kids stay with Wendy and her husband full-time and that brings up to a question of how to discipline the kids. Wendy says she initially left the disciplining to her husband but now as she started engaging in a more active role in the children’s life, she earned her stripes to discipline too.
“I do not believe in spanking young children. I will just talk with them and tell them in case they have done something wrong. If it is major, I’ll talk to my spouse about it and he will pick it up from there. Initially, it was hard to ask the kids to do chores. There was a time when I asked my step-daughter to clean the dishes and her eyes gave me a stare. They were like she was saying – what is this woman telling me? I had to change tactics quickly after that and instead I told her if she washed the dishes, she would have gotten an ice-cream treat. And it worked, but I soon realised that was not a sustainable way of getting things progressed because, for how long are you able to bribe kids?”
Cordial relationship with biological mother
When it comes to family events such as the boy’s visiting day, she says it was a very uncomfortable situation, particularly in the beginning and she had to reach out to his mother and ask if they could alternate the visiting days. “At first, we would all show up for his visiting time. My husband and I would go together and his mother would turn up too with relatives. I felt as I'm the odd one out and the time seemed not to pass fast enough. Now we alternate days, which is getting a lot better. The good news is the children’s mother is a decent one so we do not have tiffs. I am also not a drama queen. We are not hanging out for coffees or anything, but we are not feuding either. We are cordial.”
Wendy claims there will always be individuals who look down on blended families but she takes it in her stride.
“I sometimes meet old friends I knew from my college days in the supermarket while I’m with the kids and they question how it is turning out that I have such big children. I just simply say they are my children from another mother.”