Blended family life
Four Parents, Two Houses: How Humility and an Others-centered Approach Can Help in Blended Family Situations
Key: Focus on mindset, and the actions will follow. Exercise humility (self-forgetfulness), be willing to admit fault and compromise, keep a long-term perspective, and always put the children first.
5 Areas of Blended Family Issues to Consider and Discuss
Personal: mindset/approach, hurts from the past, issues of disrespect, lack of regard for others
Schedule: holidays, school, sports, vacations, etc
Parenting: friends, toys, food, phones, car, clothes, make-up, dating, sports, movies/TV/music, money (and communication about money)
Inter-family: sibling rivalries, jealousy, different/conflicting traditions, favoritism (real or perceived), use of each others’ belongings (clothes, toys, room, etc), medical insurance, school tuition, fees for extracurricular activities, gift-buying
Et Cetera: faith issues, grades, general behavior, buying patterns (clothes, household items, toiletries, etc), school supplies, ‘switchover’ items vs. permanent items
Ten Commandments of Blended Family Life
* Be the adult you want your children to become (adapted from Gandhi)
Over communicate with all adults involved: choose a format/technology that works, and use it. When in doubt, communicate about it.
Be respectful, calm, and patient with everyone involved, even if you’re the only one doing it (“A soft answer turns away wrath”).
Use discernment to learn to choose your battles very carefully: differentiate between personal dislikes and ‘red flag’ issues.
Be willing to graciously give way on minor issues. Yes, this comes with risk, but it’s still the right thing to do sometimes.
Choose to believe the best about the other household, and be sure to celebrate and acknowledge it when you see it ("A real desire to believe all the good you can of others and to make others as comfortable as you can will solve most of the problems." - CS Lewis, in 'Mere Christianity').
Express genuine gratitude as often as possible whenever a joint agreement is reached.
Remember every day that you are the adult, and your task is to model maturity and wisdom for your children. Your task is NOT to ‘win’, get revenge, or even get your own way.
Don’t be afraid to ask for 3rd-party help from a counselor, pastor, neutral friend, or someone else that all parties are comfortable with.
Work through your personal issues on your time, NOT in front of or by involving the children.
Be as consistent as possible at both (or all) houses in all areas of life. Also remember that total consistency is impossible, even in traditional families.
Ten Suggested Patterns of Behavior for Blended Family Parents
1. Speak well of the other adults involved as often as possible, and keep open lines of communication for kids at each house.
2. When in doubt, consider defaulting to the stricter view in contentious situations.
3. Seek out areas of agreement (even very minor ones) and cultivate and celebrate them.
4. Look for opportunities to work together in front of the kids.
5. Be honest about areas of disagreement (and also be respectful and use discretion).
6. As the kids get older, be alert to attempts by them to play parents/households off of each other (when they’re younger, they may try to do this less consciously).
7. Approach difficult situations with grace, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (the same way you want your children to respond in difficult situations).
8. Try not to take things personally, even in the face of evidence that it IS personal.
9. Pray with your kids specifically for the members of the other household.
10. Help kids with holiday/birthday cards/gifts for the adults in the other household.
Bonus: Thoughts on Being a Stepparent, from a Stepparent
1. Stepparents are often given all of the same responsibilities (bills, errands, taking care of sick children, helping monitor homework, etc, etc, etc) of a biological parent, without the title, without the guarantee of the positives of parenting (respect, love, even kindness), and without the authority.
2. From society, there is often a lack of sympathy and understanding for the stepparents. From those who haven’t experienced it, there is even a lack of recognition of the difficulties of step-parenting. (Think of the way stepparents have been portrayed in literature and movies)
3. There is much less information and resources available on how to be a stepparent. There is less literature written by and for stepparents about step-parenting
4. Positive: stepparents get to ‘choose’ their kids in much the same way they chose their spouse. They get to choose to love them everyday because they want to, because they can, not out of any obligation.
5. Best compliment I’ve ever heard for a stepparent: “We know you’re not going to be an evil stepmom.”
6. Most unintentionally frustrating thing to say to a stepparent: “It’s different when they’re your own kids.”