Blended families can be complicated beasts.
The idea of a happy Brady Bunch-style situation is appealing (particularly having Alice to do the cleaning and make all the meals), but the reality can often be quite different. Mine certainly is.
One of the complicating factors in my case is a fraught relationship with ex-partners. My new partner and I share a home, and we each have children who stay with us some of the time, and with their other parent for some of the time.
While we'd love to be able to enjoy a harmonious blended vibe – particularly for our kids' sakes – that is still a way off. Relations with both my ex-husband and my partner's ex-wife are strained and difficult. Bitterness and resentment are still a factor in many of our interactions.
We're not alone, of course. While everyone who has gone through a relationship break-up involving children knows it's important to try to get along with our ex-partners, it can be easier said than done when hostility bombs are constantly being hurled from the other side.
Hopefully some day that will change for us, but for now, we've decided it's healthiest for our new family dynamic to make our blended family home an ex-free zone. That means when picking up or dropping off our children, our exes are not allowed to set foot in our house.
This situation is – quite literally – about boundaries.
We've created a loving family space where we live with our kids. We work hard to ensure we're learning and growing together as we settle into our new normal, and to create a space where everyone feels at home. And we only ever speak positively about our exes to our children.
We love the home we've created together, and we want it to stay that way.
Anyone who doesn't support or contribute to that positive space is not welcome to step into that world and bring their negativity with them.
When I go out into the world, I can steel myself against whatever criticism, arguments or anger are directed my way, but my home is my soft place to fall at the end of the day.
That's not how we've explained it to our children, of course. Handling our ex ban without telling our kids that's what we were doing has been an intricate exercise in diplomacy.
When we first moved in together and made the decision, the children were keen to show off their bedrooms and our big back garden to their other parents.
I didn't want to tell my kids that I didn't want their dad's negative energy in my house, and that I didn't want to see him sneering at our family photos or hear his criticism of how we'd arranged our furniture (all of which he did at my last place when I lived alone with the children).
So I decided to get on the front foot. I encouraged the children to FaceTime their dad so they can show him everything they wanted to show him. They loved being able to give a guided tour, and it saved me from having to deal with the situation of them inviting him in the next time he came to pick them up.
That has been enough for them for now, and they haven't mentioned inviting their father in. And when he arrives, I always make sure the children are ready to go, and we go outside to greet him before he has a chance to make it to the front door.
It's not an ideal solution, I know, and I hope some day things will be different. I'd love to be able to invite my ex in for a drink so we can talk about how our kids are doing, and how we can work together to be the best parents we can be.
But for now, I'm taking a pragmatic approach and maintaining clear boundaries around my new family and my own wellbeing. That's all I can control, and it's enough for now.