Step-parenting

RLL 72: Bathing Suits in Winter? Presenting a United Front in Blended Families

RLL 72: Bathing Suits in Winter? Presenting a United Front in Blended Families

It’s spring, and summer is approaching rapidly! In our world, that means that all sorts of fun discussions are now taking place: what kinds of bathing suits our girls are allowed to wear, summer job opportunities, and what the general schedule will look like. These are all issues about which the parents feel strongly, and they also present us with the opportunity to either present a united, supportive front towards our kids or to backbite and undercut each other if we do things incorrectly.

I’d be OK with my daughters wearing a bathing suit like this.

I’d be OK with my daughters wearing a bathing suit like this.

In all families, and especially in blended ones, it is crucial for all of the adults involved to present a united front as much as possible. The reason for this are obvious: consistency is one of the major potential factors in difficulties for kids within blended situations, and presenting a united front can help minimize that issues. So, how to go about creating and maintaining a united front, even when there are disagreements and thorny issues? I’ve got three quick thoughts to share on how to make this work.

First, have the discussion without the kids present. Back in the middle of winter, my wife and I began talking about bathing suits for our older daughter. We’ve also had a few conversations with her mom on the same topic. This has allowed us to come to a pretty good understanding of what we expect in terms of modesty, etc, for our daughters as they pick out their swimwear. Because of that, we’re now much more able to have the discussion with the girls, knowing that all of the parents are on the same page.

Second, once a decision has been reached it is important that all adults agree to stick to the decision, even if it’s not our first choice. For example, I’d be ok with it if my daughters only ever wore giant, baggy, one-piece bathing suits made of sackcloth or heavy wool, or maybe wear a giant t-shirt on top of a giant one-piece bathing suit. However, both her mom and stepmom have gently pointed out to me that it’s simply not realistic. As a result, it has allowed us to come up with some general parameters that we agree on, and within those parameters our daughters have the freedom to choose what they like.

Third and finally, it is absolutely critical that all of the adults show each other mutual respect both when they are around each other and when they are separate. That is, each parent must be willing to show respect to the others even when they disagree about the specifics. In general, I’m the parent with the strictest views about clothing, etc. However, that doesn’t mean my view is always the right one, and it’s been a good lesson for me to learn. As we have these discussion then, it is important for all of us to stay on the same page, both for maintaining a united front and also because it is an excellent opportunity to set a good example: respectful disagreement is becoming rarer everyday, and we have a responsibility to show our kids how it can be done. In the long run, the bathing suits my kids wear may or may not be a huge deal. However, teaching them about modesty and compromise, about respectful disagreement and decision-making; these are issues that are important.

Remember, in every situation, put the children first, keep a long-term perspective, and show one another mutual respect. Do these things, and you’re on the road to a much better blended family situation!

Action Step: This week, consider how you and the other adults in your situation can improve the way in which you present a united front to your children.

RLL 70: Love is Often Spelled T-I-M-E

Real Life Leading 70: Love is Often Spelled T-I-M-E

This picture is from the first day of school: always a fun time to let the girls know we care!

This picture is from the first day of school: always a fun time to let the girls know we care!

This week I received an unexpected blessing: I was able to come home from school early on Wednesday, all of our evening activities that we had planned were cancelled, and we were able to spend a whole afternoon and evening as a family, even in the midst of a busy week. We spent the time running, playing games, and just generally enjoying each other’s company. That evening as we prayed with the girls at their bedtimes, it reminded me of just how grateful I should be for getting that type of opportunity and how important it is to create even more of them moving forward.

According to Ron Deal’s incredibly helpful book The Smart Step-Family, it takes years (the older the kids at the time of the blend, the more years it takes) for a blended family to fully come together. There’s no rushing the process, and I’m not claiming to have a secret to speed it up. However, what I want to encourage you to do today is to make extra time, and to make sure that you are as involved as you can be in your children’s (and stepchildren’s lives).

In our world, I get to see great examples of this every day: my wife (the girls’ stepmother) is wonderful about spending time with the girls. But even more important, she is involved with the girls: helping them braid/flat iron/curl/(whatever else teenage girls do to) their hair, answering questions about clothing, helping them with sports and gymnastics and homework, etc. The girls know that Mel loves them because of how she treats them and how willing she is to help them with whatever they need. We saw this again on Wednesday: after Mel and I went for a run, we came home and spent the next hour in the back yard playing volleyball and soccer with our girls before going and getting ice cream before dinner.

The girls also get this at their mother’s house, because their stepdad is also involved in their lives and interested in their activities. He has helped coach or been the head coach for multiple years and multiple sports for our younger daughter, and he spends much time taking care of their school’s athletic fields as well; and none of that even mentions the amount of time he and the girls’ mom have spent attending sports games, school events, and other extracurricular activities that the girls are involved in. I’m not sure if he spends as much time helping them with their hair, but then, I don’t really either, so that’s probably ok.

I’m grateful Carly’s teacher let me stop by her room right as school started on the first day!

I’m grateful Carly’s teacher let me stop by her room right as school started on the first day!

Again, the girls know that all four of their parents care about them because of our willingness and eagerness to be involved in their world and to spend time with them participating in activities they enjoy. Anytime you can create opportunities to cultivate time together, I strongly urge you to do so, and while it won’t necessarily speed up the blending process, it certainly will help develop relationships of love and trust between all of the family members.

Action step: this week, carve our special time to watch a movie, play a game, or go for a walk with your family and enjoy each other’s company. Ask the kids what they’d like to do, and find a way to make it happen.

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.