RLL 58: 10 Commandments of Blended Families

Real Life Leading 58:

10 Commandments of Blended Families

Good morning, and I hope everyone is having an amazing Christmas season. This week, I want to briefly share with you a few thoughts that are near and dear to my heart, thoughts on blended families and holidays. As many of you know, I’m divorced and remarried, and my ex-wife is also remarried. We have two daughters from that marriage, and my ex-wife and her husband have a son who is now a toddler. We all have family from in town and out of town, and so holidays can be complicated. However, I’m also very thankful to say that we’ve been able to put together a pretty good system of working together so that the holidays, though still busy, are much less stressful than they might be.

Speaking at the NHSA Conference in Orlando, FL, presenting my work on ‘Four Parents, Two Houses: Parenting Together Despite Difficulties’

Speaking at the NHSA Conference in Orlando, FL, presenting my work on ‘Four Parents, Two Houses: Parenting Together Despite Difficulties’

This past week, my wife and I were in Orlando so that I could deliver a presentation on blended family life, and I shared many of our experiences, some of my my mistakes, and many examples of how blended family life can be made better. The response was extremely encouraging, and I’m hoping it’ll be helpful to you as well. So, this week, here are the Ten Commandments of Blended Families. If you have any questions or feedback, please get in touch and let me know. Also, for more great info on blended families, be sure to check out the work of Ron Deal The website and his books are amazing and contain much wisdom.

Ok, without any further delay, here are the 10 Commandments of Blended Family Life:

  1. Over communicate with all adults involved: choose a format/technology that works, and use it. When in doubt, communicate.

  2. Be respectful, calm, and patient with everyone involved, even if you feel like you’re the only one doing it. (“A soft answer turns away wrath”).

  3. Use discernment to learn to choose your battles very carefully: differentiate between personal dislikes and ‘red flag’ issues.

  4. Be willing to graciously give way on minor issues. Yes, this comes with risk, but it’s still the right thing to do sometimes.

  5. Choose to believe the best about the other household, and be sure to celebrate and acknowledge it when you see it.

  6. Express genuine gratitude as often as possible whenever a joint agreement is reached.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. Work through your personal issues on your time, NOT in front of or by involving the children.

  10. 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.

Celebrating with my wife at the end of conference Christmas party. We had a great time at the event, and we’re so thankful to have connected with some amazing people there!

Celebrating with my wife at the end of conference Christmas party. We had a great time at the event, and we’re so thankful to have connected with some amazing people there!

These are the foundations for the way our large, complex, four-parent/two-house family has worked for the past five+ years, and we’re very grateful that God has brought us to a pretty great place. It’s still not perfect, but it is much, much better than it might be. It has taken time and effort and tears and hard work on all sides, but it is worth it. The key to all of it is to focus on have the proper 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.

Merry Christmas, and may you all be blessed!

* Be the adult you want your children to become. (adapted from Gandhi’s quote “Be the change you want to see in the world.”)

Action Step: This week, ask yourself how you can contribute to making your family life (traditional, blended, or anything else) a more positive situation by working with and respecting others.

RLL 33--Inverted Leadership (part 2 of 4)

RLL 33--Inverted Leadership (part 2 of 4)

From chapter 3 (Impact or Success?) and chapter 4 (Results or Relationships?)

Hello again, everyone, and welcome to another Real Life Leading blog post! This week I'll be sharing excerpts from the next to chapters of my upcoming book Inverted Leadership: Lead Others Better By Forgetting About Yourself!

Chapter 3 is called The Virgin Queen and the Little Corsican: Impact or Success? 

In leadership, one of the key components that must be discussed is this: what is the purpose of your organization or group? Is it to achieve success, however that may be defined? Or is it to make an impact on those around you? As Christians, we must recognize this distinction between success and impact as of crucial importance to our leadership. Our role in the world is to further the ends of Christ’s kingdom, and we begin by recognizing that this may not involve ‘success’ as defined by the world, but it will certainly involve making an impact on those around us for the Gospel.

Queen Elizabeth I of England, also known as Elizabeth Tudor and as 'The Virgin Queen' (image from, accessed on 5/27/18 at 6:51am)

Queen Elizabeth I of England, also known as Elizabeth Tudor and as 'The Virgin Queen' (image from, accessed on 5/27/18 at 6:51am)

Queen Elizabeth I of England is known as the Virgin Queen because in a historical age dominated by men, especially male monarchs, she ruled England for over half a century, unwed. In fact, our state of Virginia is named for her, since the first attempt at English colonization there occurred during her reign--the Lost Colony of Roanoke, founded in 1587. Her reign in England is known as a time of political stability and a time when religious tolerance and peace was finally achieved after decades of bloodshed caused by the Protestant Reformation and the tumultuous reigns of King Henry VIII, his son Edward, and Elizabeth’s older half-sister, the infamous Bloody Mary. Queen Elizabeth is known for surviving around two dozen assassination attempts, mainly believed to have been instigated by the Catholic rulers of Spain and the Vatican, and she is also known for establishing England as the dominant Protestant power in Europe.

Thus, Queen Elizabeth I is an amazing example of a successful leader by any measurement, leading England for over fifty years while providing political stability, religious freedom, territorial expansion, and economic growth. And if all of that was not enough, a quick study of her life will also show you that in addition to being an amazingly successful leader, Elizabeth I was also rather eloquent. So, why is it that most people have not heard of or ever bothered to study her life? Is it perhaps that because, though she was successful, the direct impact of her rule is either less than we would expect or simply underappreciated?

Portrait of Napoleon by Jacques-Louis-David - 'The Emperor Napoleon In His Study At the Tuileries' (wikipedia--accessed 5/27/18 at 6:47am)

Portrait of Napoleon by Jacques-Louis-David - 'The Emperor Napoleon In His Study At the Tuileries' (wikipedia--accessed 5/27/18 at 6:47am)

Let’s take another example: Napoleon Bonaparte, the Little Corsican who rose to power in France due to the French Revolution. Napoleon Bonaparte is the second most written about historical figure in world history, ranking only behind Jesus. Napoleon was originally from a family of minor nobility living on the island of Corsica--this, combined with his diminutive stature earned him the less-than-flattering nickname of “The Little Corsican”. He was able to go to a French military academy on scholarship, and due to the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789, he was able to quickly rise through the ranks of the French army, becoming a general in his early 20s. In 1799 he helped overthrow a provisional French government, and after becoming ‘first consul’ and then ‘consul for life,’ in 1804 he declared himself Emperor of the French.

Very few, if any, people in Europe were untouched by Napoleon’s reign, though his reign was significantly shorter (and much less ‘successful’) than Elizabeth’s. The point is this: Elizabeth is an amazing example of a successful monarch who ruled for over half a century. Napoleon was a much more impactful monarch, though his reign was significantly shorter and ended in multiple defeats. Napoleon’s impact, especially via nationalism and its effects on the development of various European countries, continued long after his death. Nationalism, after all, was one of the main causes of World War I, which began a hundred years after Napoleon’s first exile. So for us, the question is this: what type of leader do we want to be? Do we want to be successful, or do we want to be impactful?

Just as a final look at success vs. impact, consider briefly the life of Christ. His earthly ministry lasted only around three years. He spent most of his time with twelve specific men, though often crowds did gather to hear him speak. He had neither money nor political power, and he was eventually arrested, tortured, and killed by the reigning powers of his day. And at the very end of his earthly life, even his closest followers deserted him. Yet, following the Resurrection, his apostles remained faithful, his message spread to the ends of the earth, and He set in motion a movement that has had tremendous effects in every nation on earth despite the hostility of people and governments. This should tell us that our focus should be on impacting the world for the Gospel through our leadership, rather than seeking earthly success in whatever our chosen areas of influence are.

Chapter 4 is called Is Winning Arguments Even A Thing? Results or Relationships?

In leadership, it is often easy to forget that our job is not simply to get or achieve a desired result. We get caught up in trying to accomplish a stated goal or task, and we lose focus on the relationships that make any achievement possible. We forget that people are eternal, while anything we do here on earth, unless done for the Lord, will simply pass away one day. This chapter discusses how to remember and retain a focus on relationships rather than on results.

I got married for the first time after my sophomore year at Covenant College. After graduating from Covenant with a degree in History, my young family--which now included a baby girl, born less than a month after I got my diploma--and I moved five hundred miles north so that I could take up a job as a teacher and soccer coach at Fayetteville Christian School in North Carolina. While in Fayetteville, we lived in a house owned by my in-laws, and for a while, my brother-in-law came to live with us. One day he witnessed what I now see as one of the most embarrassing leadership failures of my first marriage. My wife had loaded the dishwasher and was getting ready to run it, but before she did I decided to move some of the dishes around.

How many of us have been here before?  (From, accessed on 5/27/18 at 7:03a.m.)

How many of us have been here before?

(From, accessed on 5/27/18 at 7:03a.m.)

Perhaps some of you can identify with feeling like you are the only person in the house who knows how to properly load the dishwasher. Well, both my wife and I felt that way about ourselves. So after I moved the dishes around, she went back and replaced every one into the positions she had put them in originally. Then I went and sorted them again and stood back watching as she again rearranged this dishes. This went on for probably ten minutes, while tempers and words continued to get hotter and louder, all while my brother-in-law watched (probably trying not to laugh at our ridiculousness). It’s been over a decade since that event, and I honestly do not know how it ended or in what way the dishes were arranged when the dishwasher finally got turned on. What I do know is that no matter who “won” that argument, the real loser in that moment was our relationship.

Have any of you won an argument with your spouse or significant other and still been happy about it ten minutes later? How about with a child, friend, or colleague? Perhaps sometimes, but I know what most often happens when I win an argument is that a relationship is also damaged. There are hurt feelings, there is resentment, and there is a strain in that relationship that did not need to be there. The reason this matters is because in leadership, everything starts with relationships, and so we need to take care of them. If you take care of relationships, the results will take care of themselves. And the most important relationship to take care of is your relationship with Jesus; all other relationships flow from there.

Thus, in our leadership, we need to remember the phrase “Be the first…”. As Christ first loved us and gave Himself up for us, so we must be willing to give ourselves for others even before they do so for us. This phrase also implies give and take, as we saw earlier: give respect and take responsibility. Give respect to each person you meet and take responsibility for the way in which you present yourself to them. Now, don’t worry: this is not an entire chapter about image or presentation or personal branding or any of those things. But it is about how you present yourself to other people: be the first to give respect and to take responsibility.

As leaders we must also be the first to admit fault when we are wrong and be the first to share credit with other people when things go well. Very few leaders ever accomplish anything of value all on their own. There is almost always a team or group involved, so let’s be sure to acknowledge that; it will go a long way in terms of relationship building and in the impact you will have on your audience. It is also evidence of humility to be able to encourage and applaud others’ contributions instead of having to publicize one’s own accomplishments.

Last, and most importantly, be the first to serve. As Christ washed the disciples’ feet, as He gave Himself up for us, so we must be willing to serve others if we are to properly fulfill our roles as leaders. Always be willing to do the little bit extra, show up early, stay a bit late, go out of your way for others. All of these things essentially hit on the same idea. A key component of leadership is putting the needs of others before our own, in order to help them become better versions of themselves.

RLL 26: The Power of Partnerships--Two C's to Working Better Together

RLL 26

The Power of Partnerships: Two C’s of Working Better Together

I’m very excited to be working on the final editing and revisions for my book that’s due out this summer! Since I’m planning to self-publish, I’ve been learning as much about that process as I can, and this week I stumbled across a hidden jewel that applies not just in book writing but in all of leadership. Here it is (paraphrased from Chandler Bolt, best-selling author of six books, including Publish and Book Launch): ‘When writing a book, the purpose of working with an editor is to produce something that is better than you would have been able to create on your own.’

As my wife and I were walking our dogs yesterday, I told her about how I came across that piece of wisdom and how much it struck a chord with me. She agreed, and we discussed it at further length as we continued to walk, and the more we discussed it, the more examples I came across in my world. I want to share with you two key insights today that I gathered from Chandler’s wisdom: collaboration and compromise are necessary to the creation of great things, and that requires the humility to engage in both.

Key #1: The Necessity of COLLABORATION

All of us gathered together to celebrate our daughter's baptism at her grandfather's church.

All of us gathered together to celebrate our daughter's baptism at her grandfather's church.

The first key to understanding why partnerships are so powerful is in that sentence above, because (within reason) working with other people toward a common goal is going to produce better results than you would have achieved alone. We see this in education, where many classrooms today use the word collaboration to describe ways in which students work together on projects, in study groups, or to complete complex assignments. In these situations, students use their particular skill sets in combination with other students, and the results are of a higher quality than any individual student would have produced alone. Collaboration has become a bit of an education buzzword actually, both for students and for teachers, and the goal is always the same: raise the quality of work being done by combining the strengths (and thus also shoring up the weaknesses) of multiple people.

The same is true in family life, when both parents are working together for the good of the family. Now, please, don’t misunderstand me: I’m NOT bashing single parents. I know there are many, many single parents who do more and work harder and longer hours than they should have to, just for the sake of their children. I also know (and am thankful for) the many loving friends and family members who help single parents with logistical things, like picking kids up from school or running errands from time to time. And I believe all of these things further drive home my point: when there are two parents, a mother and father working together, that is when the family functions best. That’s why God designed it that way.

In the interest of full disclosure, let me give a little background into my own world: my parents divorced when I was in middle school, and we lived with my mom afterward. However, because of my parents’ love for us and their willingness to compromise, we also saw my father almost every day and we even still celebrated many holidays together. That is, my mom and dad continued to work together for the sake of their three children even though it was sometimes difficult and unusual. As an adult, I also am divorced and was a single parent for a time, as was my ex-wife. I am now remarried, as is my ex-wife, and the four adults involved all work together for the sake of our children. This is the type of collaboration that is necessary in our current divorce-heavy culture. And this leads to the second key here: having enough humility to compromise.

KEY #2: COMPROMISE requires humility

Butterscotch (on the left) and Bruiser (on the right) don't look too happy about being kept out of the garden!

Butterscotch (on the left) and Bruiser (on the right) don't look too happy about being kept out of the garden!

Any time you work in close contact with another adult, there will have to be compromise. In working on the final revisions of my book, I’ve asked my wife and a few other people to go through and make editing suggestions. One of the people who did, a lady I call my second mom, emailed me with a list of over fifty different edits that needed to be made. And in her email, she made a joke about how I’ll probably never ask for her help again because of the number of mistakes. I was sure to email her back and let her know that I was actually very grateful to her for the suggestions that she made and that I took no offense at how many mistakes she found.

We saw this idea in my house again this weekend when my wife and I were rebuilding a garden in our backyard. We built a garden last weekend, but the quality was not very high, and it became obvious that we needed to rethink our plan. So she went and talked with her parents, and they came up with a much better design. As we built the garden beds, moved the dirt, and built a better fence, multiple small changes were necessary in order to accommodate the reality of our situation: our backyard was not as flat as we’d thought, and we have two large dogs who needed to be kept out of the beds. In the end, thanks to suggestions and hard work from my wife, her mom, and her dad, the final product is somewhat different and also much better than what we had originally done last week and what was intended to be done yesterday. This wouldn’t have been possible if we had stubbornly stuck to the plan drawn up on paper, instead of being willing to make a few changes.

Conclusion: working together (within reason) always produces better results than we would be able to achieve on our own! So, let us have the humility to compromise and collaborate with others so that, together, we can produce things of better quality and lasting value.

Action Step: ask someone for help with a project you’re working on, and be willing to implement at least one of their suggestions even if they’re radically different than what you had originally intended.

Don’t forget to be looking out for my upcoming book on leadership! In the meantime, I hope you’ve enjoyed the first chapter that I emailed out to everyone last week. If you’d like to partner with me in sharing buzz about the book ahead of time, please let me know. Thanks, and God bless!