RLL 69: Yard Work Makes the Family Work

Real Life Leading #69:

Yard Work Makes the Family Work

This weekend marked a large milestone for our younger daughter: I taught her how to cut the grass! We as a blended family believe that it’s important for our girls to learn to be self-sufficient, and as a result we work to teach them skills they will need when they live on their own: cooking, cleaning, yard work, study habits, responsibility, etc. And this weekend that meant it was time for our Lou to cut the grass. It was after she finished the yard that I saw the parallel with blended family life. In learning to cut the grass, the single most important thing to remember is that, if you work at it, it will get easier with time.

Between the grass Lou cut and our snowball bush, our yard is looking ready for spring!

Between the grass Lou cut and our snowball bush, our yard is looking ready for spring!

In our blended family world (as well as in the blended lives of many of our friends), we have seen this to be true, and so I wanted to share this bit of encouragement with you this morning. Praise be to God for how well things are going in our world! And, for those of you struggling in your blended family situation, I’d like to share just a couple of major points about how we got here.

First, understand that any blended situation is going to take time before it can become comfortable and routine. Our lives were not always this way, and without a doubt situations will arise in the future that will test our patience. However, I can state that where we are now is miles from where we have been in the past. It has taken us a few years to get the hang of things like good communication, proper respect for distance and boundaries, and how to balance our desires with that of the other household. And if I’m being entirely honest, we still get it wrong sometimes. But in general, our blended family world is on an upward trajectory, and much of that is the result of patience from all involved.

Soon it’ll be time to eat on the patio again, enjoying the view and the smell of the grass!

Soon it’ll be time to eat on the patio again, enjoying the view and the smell of the grass!

Second, in order to work well together, we all have to consciously choose to put in the work. It’s not always easy, nor is it always fun (much like cutting the grass!), but when you do the work the results are almost always positive.

Hold your tongue when you want to respond harshly or with sarcasm, pray for the other household when you want to criticize, and show respect even when you strongly disagree. These type of actions are good not just because they build better relationships but also because they are the right thing to do: that is, you don’t just do them because they are good for the family, you do them because by doing these things you are allowing God to change your heart as well.

I am thankful to say that I have seen God continue to work in my heart year after year, and He does the most work when I get my own ego out of the way and simply try do to the right thing even when it’s hard. So that’s my encouragement to you today: do the right thing, even when it’s hard. And then, especially when everyone is putting in the time and the work, you’ll begin to see a difference in your own heart and in the hearts of those around you.

Action Step: This week, choose to show patience and respect even when you’d rather not. Make this a habit and enjoy the results!

RLL 68: Who's Your Daddy?

Real Life Leading 68:

Who’s Your Daddy? Mutual Respect is Key in Blended Family Parenting

One of my all-time favorite pictures, from many years ago: Dad, my older daughter, and me at heading to a soccer game. I’m in coaching gear, Dad’s wearing a Dodgers hat, and Carly was dressed as a princess. That pretty much sums us up!

One of my all-time favorite pictures, from many years ago: Dad, my older daughter, and me at heading to a soccer game. I’m in coaching gear, Dad’s wearing a Dodgers hat, and Carly was dressed as a princess. That pretty much sums us up!

Just yesterday I had a conversation with Kyle, my girls’ stepfather, about a situation involving our teenage daughter and one of her friends. The situation has been on-going for sometime, and we’re thankful to say that it seems to have been resolved very well last night. Before it was resolved, however, Kyle and I were discussing it and came to the conclusion that we feel strongly and similarly about it. What I appreciated most about our conversation, though, was when he said, “I told Carly ‘I’m not your dad, and I’ll never try to be your dad, but I do think that…’” and then shared his opinion about the situation. There’s two big keys in his statement that have helped our blended family, and I wanted to share them with you.

First, his willingness to acknowledge that it’s not his job to try to replace me is something that many blended families know in theory but not all of them are willing to actually say or abide by. We’ve known each other for almost six years now, and Kyle has always been consistent in maintaining his role as a father-figure without trying to be the girls’ father. This habit shows respect for my position as father that is critical for all of us to maintain a good relationship. Do we always agree? Of course not! But when we disagree, we try to do so amicably, quietly, and respectfully, and I’m grateful to say that he makes this much easier than it might be otherwise. So the first key here is that mutual respect among all the parents is a must. I would say that even if you don’t actually feel respectful about the other adults, treat them that way anyway. Remember the Golden Rule of our youth, and treat others with the respect you’d like to be shown. This will go a long way toward good relations in a blended family.

The second key to his statement was that he was still willing to share his opinion, knowing it would be respectfully received. That is, just because he isn’t the girls’ father, that does NOT mean that his opinion doesn’t matter. It certainly does matter, both to me and to our kids, especially when they’re at his and their mother’s house. And so I need to make sure that I respect his opinion (yes, even when we disagree) and that I tell him so. Thus in our conversation yesterday I told him that I appreciate how protective he is of our daughters, and I am grateful that he feels so strongly about taking care of them.

When we work together to raise our children, everyone benefits. And cooperation in this type of situation always needs to begin with mutual respect. When we show that to each other, it makes our relationships better, and it sets a powerful example for our children as well. Remember, our job is not to try to be the ‘favorite’ parent but rather it is to be the best set of parents that we can be. When my parents divorced and my mother eventually got together with the man I call my stepdad, he and my father were never anything short of respectful toward each other. If you want more details, check out my book (Extra)Ordinary Leadership: 10 Things Dad Taught Me Without Saying Anything. (If you’d like a free copy, just email me and I’ll send you the PDF!)

Action Step: This week, look to build a stronger relationship with the other adults in your blended family by showing them respect and by looking to cooperate rather than compete with each other.

RLL 67: Our Daughter Goes to a Dance

RLL 67: Our Daughter Goes to a Dance

This is probably the only picture in which we weren’t doing something ridiculous…which is an accurate representation of us as people as well.

This is probably the only picture in which we weren’t doing something ridiculous…which is an accurate representation of us as people as well.

I was on the phone with my best friend recently, and I related to him how my older daughter is now almost 15, she’s growing up, and she would be attending a school dance this weekend. He said, “Doesn’t that make you scared?” And I said, “Yes. All the time. Not a day passes without me praying for my kids. But I also can’t stop it, so we need to do the best we can to help her do well as she grows up.” (Full disclosure: I learned that from my parents and in-laws…I would have been OK trying to keep my kids as kids for many more years if it were solely up to me.)

After that conversation I started thinking about how we, as a large blended family, can help our kids to grow, develop, and learn as they mature. This week’s opportunity to do that was that our oldest child was going to be attending a dance. Because of that she and her stepmom (my wife) went dress shopping, then decided to alter a dress we already had, then asked my mother-in-law to do the alterations, and hey presto: a dress for a dance was made! In addition, our daughter asked if her mother could come over in the afternoon before the dance to help her with her hair. And this is where it could get sticky.

In the past, we’ve had many conversations among the adults in our blended family about “parent” things that we want to be involved in. We try hard not to step on each other’s toes or to unintentionally assume roles that would cause jealousy or resentment. So when Carly asked if her mom could help her with her hair, our immediate response was, “Of course!” We were reminded this week of two lessons that I wanted to share with you.

Carly was unimpressed with my attempt to pose the same way she was. I have no idea why; I nailed it!

Carly was unimpressed with my attempt to pose the same way she was. I have no idea why; I nailed it!

1) We always want to encourage positive cooperation between both houses. This is true for a lot of reasons: logistics are complicated, people are busy, and cooperation is better than a lack of it. But more importantly, we want to cooperate also to set a good example for our kids. My parents divorced when I was in middle school, and they continued to work well together through the end of my father’s life; that made a powerful and lasting impression on me, and so we have tried to do the same thing in the lives of our children.

2) We want to encourage our kids to have strong relationships with everyone else in our blended family, not just ourselves. I want to have an amazingly strong relationship with each of my daughters, but not at the expense of their relationship with each other, their mom and stepdad, their stepmom, or their little brother. I want to encourage them in all of their familial relationships because then our family will be more harmonious in the long run. So if Carly wants her mom to be able to help her prepare for a big-deal event, we want to try to accommodate that as much as possible. When they tell stories about what their brother did when they were with their mom last week, we want to listen; not just out of politeness, but out of genuine interest and curiosity, to let them know we care.

This kind of moment makes all the rest of life worth it.

This kind of moment makes all the rest of life worth it.

Carly’s mom came over and helped with her hair, my wife and other daughter went with Carly to do pre-dance pictures with her friends, and then Carly had an amazing time at the school’s dance. We had an excellent time all working together to love our kids. And for that, I’ll always be grateful. Is it easy to make things like this happen? Not at first, no. But the more often you do it, the easier it gets.

Action step: This week, look for ways to actively cooperate with the other household and for ways to encourage your children in having positive relationships with everyone else in both houses as well.