Urban family structures have undergone a significant metamorphosis in our country over time. Joint families have given way to nuclear families, single-parent families and even blended families, with the concept of “yours, mine and ours” gaining currency.
A glimpse of this was recently seen on Karan Johar’s chat show, featuring Saif Ali Khan and Sara Ali Khan, where the father-daughter duo impressed one and all with their progressive views on the idea of a modern blended family. We have often come across reports on the growing friendship between the Kedarnath actress and her stepmother Kareena Kapoor, not to forget how the families come together to celebrate on occasions.
As happy as the family seems to be today, things weren’t always this cordial. In an earlier interview with The Telegraph in 2005, Saif had talked about how he wasn’t allowed to meet his children post his separation from ex-wife Amrita Singh. “I really want my kids. But I don’t want to put up a constant fight over them…But please don’t kill me with a feeling of constant guilt just because I’ve had the courage to finally walk away from an impossible relationship to find some solace,” he had said. Years later, it was Amrita who dressed her daughter herself for her father’s second wedding. We can only imagine the hard work that must’ve gone into relationships from everyone involved to reach that stage.
Consider another popular Bollywood family for instance, the Bhatts. In 2012, Mahesh Bhatt’s son Rahul Bhatt talked in an interview with Times of India about his unconventional relationship with his father, one “who doesn’t believe in family structure”, while calling himself a “super bast**d”.
Breakups are emotionally exhausting. Even as adults navigate the complexities of their relationships, more often than not, their children, especially if very young, are left with little or no ability to cope with the situation. The ruptures in the parents’ relationship or the absence of a parent has a deep impact on a child.
With the evolving nature of a modern family, it is also essential to sensitise children about the same. And that’s what Ritika Jain tried to do, who separated from her husband when her daughter was eight years old, and remarried. “Initially, my daughter would be angry; she would not want my present husband to be around and would voice as much,” she told Express Parenting. Jain’s daughter is now 15 and over the years, she has developed her own rapport with her mother’s husband. “Thankfully, she gradually grew fond him over the years. Now, of course, she accepts us as a unit,” Jain added.
In such situations, children usually battle a lot of insecurities and emotions. It is not always easy for a child to accept his or her parents’ divorce, for instance, let alone welcoming the parent’s new partner. Dr Rachna Khanna Singh,
HOD-Holistic Medicine & Psychology, Artemis Hospital, Gurgaon, shared some tips with Express Parenting about how to help a child settle in a blended family:
1. To begin with, parents need to help the child understand and view the situation as an adult. “Children undergo a whirlwind of emotions and it is important for parents to address them. Some parents send their children for counselling sessions too which are helpful,” said Dr Singh.
2. The parent needs to explain to the child why there’s a new companion in his or her life. “Communication is the key here,” asserted Dr Singh.
3. Dr Singh advised that a parent can introduce his or her partner to the child, not immediately as a companion but as a friend. Jain followed the same. “My daughter was upset initially; she missed me. But I explained to her that I am always going to be around and it’s just that I am no longer going to be living in the same house any longer. Then, gradually I introduced my now husband to her as a friend and announced marriage later. It was all very gradual,” she said.
Jain, for instance, never insisted her daughter to accept her present husband as her father. “Right from the beginning, I have told my daughter that she need not treat him as her father but a friend. They fight and play pranks on each other. And that has also happened because my husband is very affectionate towards her. She calls him by his name. We also take holidays together. My current husband doesn’t really have to tag along with us but he will make sure he does,” she said.
4. One obviously can’t expect children to accommodate to the changes in his or her family immediately and so parents need to be extremely patient with them. “The process cannot be hastened since a lot of emotions are involved,” said Dr Singh. “You obviously can’t sit a child down and explain things to them. You have to give them some time to understand and accept the changes. And that happens gradually,” added Jain.
5. Finally, adults in the family need to make a collaborative effort to help a child to overcome complexities, be their constant guide and support, and work as a team to ensure his or her healthy upbringing.