The Complexity Of Patchwork Family Roles

Click to visit the Siren Stories website and read more work by J.J. Barnes and check out her latest novels.

Click to visit the Siren Stories website and read more work by J.J. Barnes and check out her latest novels.

We live in the middle of an incredibly patchwork family, and against the odds we make it work.  Not just make it work, we make it work really successfully.

The Boy and I are both divorced with a child from each marriage, and together we have a daughter.  That leaves ex-partners, former families and extended family tethers on either side, as well as giving our children and ourselves a huge number of different roles within one family.

It can make it confusing, and it can make it complicated.  But, as I say, we make it work.

Jonathan McKinney is father, step father, boyfriend and ex-husband.  He’s a biological father to Z and Baby B, and the only father actively involved in Miss Rose’s life and she refers to him as Daddy.  His relationship is different with all 3.  He was there for Z’s birth but Z isn’t here every night and is less emotionally needy than Miss Rose, who he only came into her life at the age of 2 but who is a very emotionally vulnerable person.  Then there’s Baby B who is biologically his AND with us every night.

Photo credit Public Domain Pictures

Photo credit Public Domain Pictures

The roles he plays for each child are both similar and completely different.  For Z and Baby B he loves them on a biological level, whereas with Miss Rose it’s a love that’s grown from somewhere new.  He is needed by the big two on very different, though equally real, levels, but by Baby B less so as she’s still so dependent on breast milk.

Then there’s the roles as ex-husband and boyfriend.  He’s still close with his ex-wife and is a supportive friend and co-parent, whilst managing not to incite jealously from me or alienate her.  Somehow he’s found a balance where she is not just Z’s mummy she’s Miss Rose and Baby B’s Aunty Katie, and a family friend to us all, myself included.

Then I’m step-mum, mum, ex-wife and girlfriend.  But it’s all slightly different to the similar roles played by Jon.

As step-mum to Z I’m not the only mother figure in his life like Jon is for Miss Rose.  He has mother he loves and spends time with, so I’m a less vital role though still needed.  I’m the mother in this house but not the primary mother in his life.  I provide for him, love him, feed him, but don’t decide rules over him and take a respectful step back from many major decisions.  It’s a difficult job, and one I take seriously.

With Miss Rose and Baby B I’m their biological mother, but with Miss Rose I was a single mum for a long time and it forged a certain co-dependency between us.  With Baby B she is one of three in a family setting, and even though it hasn’t stopped us bonding, it’s a different bond again.

Photo credit Unsplash

Photo credit Unsplash

Baby B has the most simple role of all the kids.  She’s half sister to both children, and full child to both parents.  That’s it.  She lives with Miss Rose full time and they’re already forging a very close sisterly bond, and Z half the time.  Her life is the least complex to figure out.

Miss Rose is the second least complex.  She’s half sister to Baby B, step sister to Z, and also half sister to at least one other child from her biological father, though that doesn’t impact her because she’s unaware.  She’s daughter to me, but step-daughter to Jon.  Even though she doesn’t really understand the concept of being a step-child she does know on a base level because she backs off from him when Z’s around and this leaves her with a certain number of daddy issues that rear their heads in the form of dramatics and strops, but for the most part she’s alright.

For Z it’s the most complex of all.  He’s son, step, son, only child, middle child, half brother, step brother, and step son.

He’s the son of Jon, the middle child in our house, the son of his mother and the only child in hers.  He’s step brother to Miss Rose, half brother to Baby B, and step-son to me.

Only children traditionally have issues with entitlement, never having to share toys or compete for attention.  Middle children have issues with feeling ignored, neither being the first to accomplish things nor the baby.  However, he’s also the first born child to Jon so he’s still got that, though it’s in the setting of a sister who’s barged in and taken the oldest child role despite not being biologically entitled to it.  He’s also not based always in one house, moving in equal parts between our house, his grandmother’s house and his mother’s house.

It’s complicated and as adults leads us to endless conversations about how best to manage this patchwork situation and make sure no child feels unwanted or unjustly treated, whilst compensating for our own biological links and histories.  For children who both can’t fully understand it or properly articulate what they do understand it must be a complete woolly mess.

Despite what a mess this could be, despite the potential for resentment and anger, bitterness and sadness, we have somehow ended up with a situation where all five of us pile onto our one small sofa to watch TV and cuddle.  We all five of us manage to cram into our standard double bed to sleep, albeit badly.  We all five of us go on family trips both with and without the extentions.  We have dinners with Z’s mother, we have parties with all the families on both sides.  I pick both children up from school and walk them hand in hand to the car, with the baby strapped to my chest, and chat to them about their day.

Life has presented us with so much complication and somehow we’ve battled through it and reached the point we’re at.  If a family built around uniting two divorced units together is going to work then this is how it’ll work.

Photo credit One_Life

Photo credit One_Life

It’s not perfect.  There’s emotions and complications around all corners and these kids seem to throw new issues at us the moment we feel we’ve resolved one.  But at the end of the day we all go to bed in the same house and know we’re with family and we’re loved.

How, is the question

And I believe the answer is respect.  I respect Z’s mother, so don’t try and take over the mother job.  Jon respects her so ensures she’s included.  She respects us and the job we are doing and trusts us with her child.  I respect him and his commitment not just to Baby B but to Rose, and he respects me and the care I provide Z.

We are two years in and with honesty and mutual respect on both sides, this is the place we’ve reached.  And I know it’s rare.  I know it’s not easy.  And I know I’d struggle to be as magnanimous about any partner Rose’s biological father decided to bring into Rose’s life if he ever decided to come back.  But again, that’s probably the respect part of the relationship… and the lack there of.

If you can make a patchwork family work it’s amazing.  It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.  And as more and more families stop being confined to the 2.5 of old and couples with the baggage of exes and families unite, there’s definitely something to be said for trying to normalise it, trying to ensure the children and the family unit is prioritised over any awkwardness that might come from trying to make it happen.

And when it comes to the confusion over all the different roles you play, my advice is to talk about it.  Talk about what you want, what you’re worrying about, what you’re trying to do, and where you feel you’re failing.  Work on it all together because that’s where the respect that’s needed comes from.

You can check out all my contact info an links on, I’m on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram so you can get in touch on there, as well as find links to all my work. There’s also which has all the work by both myself and Jonathan McKinney and loads of extra content such as background stories for different characters. If you want to subscribe on Patreon, its just $1 a month to help support our work and it also grants you access to our extra podcast a week, you can go to

Thanks as always for reading, and I’ll speak to you soon I hope!



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