Blended Family Life

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 71: Quick Tips for a Better Blended Family

Real Life Leading 71: Quick Tips for a Better Blended Family

This week, I was reminded of how much I still have to learn. Providentially, that reminder coincided with the publishing of a podcast interview that is all about lessons and tips for blended families. Anna Seewald, founder of Authentic Parenting (https://authenticparenting.com/) , and I had an excellent conversation on the topic of blended families. Below is a summary of what we discussed as well as a link to our interview. I hope that both prove helpful to you and your family.

8 Quick Tips for a Better Blended Family

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1. Seek to apply the golden rule: Treat other people the way you want them to treat you, even when it’s difficult. And sometimes, in order to do this, we must leave past perceptions in the past.

2. Put kids first, especially when it’s hard or inconvenient. At its heart, this is a large part of what parenting is all about, so be willing to put what’s good for the children ahead of your own desires.

3. Make decisions with the long term goals in mind. Keep your focus on helping them become the adult that God has created them to be.

4. Speak gently whenever there is a disagreement [full disclosure: I have failed at this many times with my daughters, and it has caused much damage. I strongly urge you to be aware of your tone, especially when speaking with children.]  When speaking with other adults, the best way to decompress a situation is to speak calmly, no matter what. It isn’t always easy, but speaking over someone is not going to get anyone the result they desire

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5. Accept that you can never get things 100% your way in a blended family (or in any family, really). Once you accept that, it becomes much easier to do adapt and compromise as necessary.

6. As much as possible, be flexible and adaptable, especially regarding time. There is generally a written “rule” or legal document, but consider being flexible when it is helpful to the kids. [Again, full disclosure: this is something that I’m very thankful my ex-wife and I both strive to do, allowing each other to see the kids when it’s not “our week” with them.]

7. Be willing to apologize for your mistakes. Openly acknowledge when you are wrong. Not only is this the right thing to do, it also sets an example for your children to follow.

8. Make it a habit to speak well of the other adults involved in the relationship. It’s important not to bad mouth each other, and it may be even more important to purposefully point out the positives! Be sure to talk about how loved the children are by all of their parents.

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.