LagosMums Interviews Rolake Akinkugbe-Filani On Making Blended Families Thrive

Blended families are formed when two partners make a life together with the children from one or both of previous relationships. The process of forming a new, blended family can be both a rewarding and challenging experience. Read as Rolake Akinkugbe-Filani shares the beauty of blended families and how to make it thrive through her personal experience.

Please tell us about yourself?

I’m an energy and finance/investment professional with a passion for mentoring and helping women and young people develop and advance their careers. I took a short career break in October from investment and merchant banking where I lead the energy business at a bank.

I’m now running my own consulting business – EnergyInc Advisors. I created a coaching initiative focused on public speaking and effective communication. I’m also building a social enterprise helping alternative energy SMEs prepare for investment.

Given the career woman in me, I also work as Senior Advisor to IFU, the Danish Development Fund on Africa; on a contract basis. Outside of these, I’m a classically trained pianist who enjoys making music as a way of relaxing. Since leaving the bank, I’ve returned to my love of reading and providing global markets and economic analysis to several media platforms.

Tell us about your beautiful family?

Dapo and I got married in March 2018, and we are a family of six. We have a 16 year old girl, a 14 year old boy, an 8 year old girl and a 15 month old boy.

What has surprised you the most about motherhood?

I think the most surprising thing about motherhood is learning about myself, and how much I can be stretched. I also think there’s a tendency to see motherhood as this static concept that involves mothering and nurturing a child (biological or otherwise). However, I’ve discovered it can be many things and anything. Much of it depends on how you shape it and what you make of it.

Because of my blended family status, my motherhood style especially for the older ones is more of mentor and counsellor, for the younger ones, it’s full on guidance, nurturer! But these roles and their importance vary in and out of season. I always try to ask – what do the kids need from me right now?

Can you share your views on blended parenting/families.

Simply put, a blended family is one where one or more of the parents have children from previous relationships; but all the members come together as one unit.

I think our society has grown more accepting over the years of blended families. Blended families are much more common than you think. And of course, blended families come in all shapes and sizes. You need to look not just at the make-up of the blended family, but at the journey or process that resulted in the ‘blending’. That can often shape developments within that family in the future and how the different members relate to each other.

I can certainly say that being part of a blended family, has probably been one of the most life-changing experiences I have had. There is no perfect situation – to be honest. My view is that all families are dysfunctional (lol); to a certain extent because there are no perfect people. However, blended families can also be extremely enriching and beautiful when everyone is getting on.

They actually play a role in our society because they literally help to fill gaps for those whose family experiences may have been challenged by life events such as death, divorce, separation or other circumstances.  Blended parenting like parenting in general requires patience, perseverance, wisdom, an ability to listen and effectively communicate, and a heart full of unconditional love.

It’s also important to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Don’t always assume during times of conflict that things are happening because a family is ‘blended’!

How did you and your spouse prepare your child(ren) for the new family?

To be honest I think much of the work was on Dapo’s side, as I came into the family with no kids – Dotun was born 11 months after we got married. Having said that, Dapo was very upfront from day 1 with the kids about his relationship with me. I believe he had that conversation with them within two weeks of beginning our relationship, and I met the kids about a week after that.

Dapo and I were serious from day 1, so we felt there was no need to beat around the bush. Nevertheless, it’s a big change to have someone new in your dad’s life after such a long period has passed. As a result, I was always sensitive to making sure I could establish a good relationship with them from day 1 without overwhelming them. This was important because Dapo had been a single parent for 6 years during which his 3 kids always came first.

How can blended families live as harmoniously as possible?

I think it’s particularly important for the adults in the family to take responsibility for integrating everyone. Having honest conversations at the onset about the reality of our family structure was important. Doing periodic assessments of how everyone is doing is also key because emotions fluctuate.

I also think it has been important for me not to try too hard. It’s very easy to come in and think you can make them like you or take to you automatically without any teething issues. But you just need to do you and be authentic in the way you relate; while making efforts to understand each child’s personality.

Our family has two teenagers, a young child and an infant/toddler so their needs are all different. It does take a lot of observing in the early days to figure out how to relate and build a unique relationship with each of them. For instance with our older two although I’m mum of the house, I end up functioning more as a mentor and counsellor. I’m perfectly happy with that because for them it’s the right balance. They knew and had a strong bond with their biological mum, and my role is not to replicate that, because I can’t. It’s really to be there for them as much as I can. However, they know that they can also relate to me for ‘mum’ things whenever they need to.

With our 8-year old; I’m pretty much ‘mummy’ in every sense because that is the main need she had when I came into her life when she was 6. And she had never been in position to call anyone mummy, having, sadly, lost her mum when she was barely 7 months old.

How do you ensure there is no favoritism between your step-children and biological child?

To be honest; I tend to defer to their dad to take some decisions that ensure I’m never in this position. Plus, I made a particularly conscious effort to help them fully embrace their new born baby brother at the time. Dotun is everyone’s favourite (when he’s not screaming 😊 ) because he is still quite young. They all give him a lot of attention.

I imagine that it’s different when you have a new baby in a blended family with other kids; because babies naturally demand a high level of attention and round-the-clock care. The easiest thing for me to do was to involve all 3 older kids in caring for their baby brother when I returned home with him as a new born. Plus, he is just their brother, they don’t refer to him as their “step brother”.

However, I’m grateful to have a support system at home in the form of a nanny and occasionally our mums. It affords me the opportunity to carve out and dedicate regular time to meeting the needs of or listening to the older kids and teenagers.  The teenagers are mostly away in boarding school, so 70% of the year is usually spent with our 8 year old and our baby.

How can different parenting styles and parenting histories that each parent brings forward into the new relationship be combined?

Well, I had no parenting history, as I’d never been a parent. The whole experience was new to me in every sense of the word. Plus, when you parent in a situation where you didn’t nurture the child from birth, you have to be as open-minded as you can because you have no appreciation of the journey that child has been through. I relied on Dapo a lot for guidance and knowledge.

On the other hand, Dapo was; by circumstance I guess, a very hands-on dad. It was a learning curve for him too, especially knowing when to pull back and let me take some decisions concerning the kids. The only reference point I had for parenting was my own experience growing up. As most parents quickly realize, kids today are literally worlds apart from what we knew growing up or what we thought was good parenting. Dapo and I come from backgrounds where discipline was a priority, but I think it was also important for us to agree on an approach.

Dapo is definitely the parent who sits down to have a long rationale conversation with the kids after they make a poor behavioural decision. I am more the ‘naughty-corner’ or ‘go to your room’ kind of parent. But we’ve had to learn how to strike a balance between these two styles to make things work, and share the responsibility of parenting.

Whilst we have all been on lockdown during COVID-19, the differences in our parenting style have become more evident, because we are all stuck at home with nowhere to run, quite literally. However it’s also provided a unique opportunity to build strong bonds with each other, and I think Dapo has a better appreciation for what it takes to be a mum and manage a household in a blended family situation.

When it comes to discipline, how do you balance disciplining your child without causing any hostility.

Thankfully discipline is not something we have to do often in our household. Dapo was before me, and now with me, still a fantastic dad, who laid a solid foundation with the kids and has made my entry and experience much easier.

What do you advise parents overlook when it comes to preparing families to become one.

I don’t think they should overlook anything. Consider everything. However, you might want to overlook what people say or think about your family situation or how you parent in your family situation. Quite frankly, you don’t need that headache. Everyone has an opinion. Do what you feel is best. As long as the end goal is to bring peace and harmony to your home; you are probably on the right track.

What’s one thing you think your parents got absolutely right raising you; that you would like to pass on as you bring up your own children?

The importance of having a world-view and all-round education, and I think doing domestic chores frankly!

How important is a support system for a mum and who is in your Tribe?

Hmmm, probably one of the most important aspects of parenting. I’m thankful to still have my mum, as she has pretty much been my rock. The closest members of my tribe are incidentally all overseas (Gloria, Bolaji, Joy etc.). So here in Nigeria I rely mostly on my parents, siblings and in-laws. Special shout-out to my mother-in-law too, who is a constant. However, there are a few women who have provided and continue to provide support in so many ways; (Sis Lape, Bolanle, Eniola, Folajomi etc.)

Use one word to describe one thing that should not be missing from every home?

Fun!

What advice do you have for other parents in Blended families?

Don’t be too hard on yourself, you’re not going to get it right from day 1. Accept the situation for what it is, embrace it; and make a genuine effort to love freely, with an open mind. I think blended families need to be deliberate about creating opportunities for everyone to have fun together. Take time out to do so together. I appreciate that either legal (e.g. custody issues) or other type of blended family dynamics may make that difficult. But nonetheless, when you’re together make the most of the time together.

​​What do you love about LagosMums?

I love the fact that Lagos Mums is tackling an issue as complex as Blended families. You’re not afraid to deal with the tough issues, and that’s really refreshing.

Thank you Rolake Akinkugbe-Filani for sharing your experience with the LagosMums community and inspiring us. We definitely learnt a lot from this article! For more articles on parenting, visit the Parenting category.

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