Blended Family Life

RLL 76: Scheduling Flexibility Is A Must

Real Life Leading 76

Scheduling Flexibility Is A Must

It’s summertime here in the USA, and one of my family’s favorite activities is to go to our local swimming pool and cool off. This summer, my wife is managing the pool, and our older daughter is in her first year as a lifeguard there. One of the extra services that the pool provides is swim lessons to local families, and it is from this that I was reminded of a valuable lesson: when you’re part of a blended family or co-parenting situation, scheduling flexibility is a must.

My wife and her best friend had a great time at the face-painting station.

My wife and her best friend had a great time at the face-painting station.

There’s a young boy who has been taking swim lessons from my wife for a few weeks now. The boy’s parents recently divorced, and they are sharing custody with each parent having the child one week at a time. The parents’ work schedules are very different, and so the boy is only able to have the swim lessons on the weeks he is with his dad. He’s enjoyed his lessons and has made great progress so far, and because of the schedule, the dad wants him to take lessons each day (Monday-Friday) that he can.

Earlier this week, due to the pending 4th of July holiday (Happy Independence Day, by the way!!!), my wife and I were excited to see that she had a whole day this week without any swim lessons. This surprised us because often she has two to three lessons per day, multiple days per week. However, the morning of her full day with no lessons, she received a text from this man, asking if his son could squeeze in a lesson that day since they had some unexpected free time.

At first, my wife was hesitant simply because we were excited to have a chance to get more errands done and tasks accomplished without any swim lessons. But then, as we were driving through town, she said, “You know, if his dad can bring him, I really should make time to teach this lesson.” And so she did. I was impressed but not surprised at her decision to make time in her schedule, because she knows the reality of blended family life from our experiences. She ended up teaching multiple lessons this week, including one on the morning of the 4th.

The annual Big Splash Contest was a huge hit!

The annual Big Splash Contest was a huge hit!

In our world, with four parents and two houses, flexibility is a must. Regardless of your specific blended family or co-parenting situation, I encourage you to be flexible with your scheduling. Yes, it’s great to have a plan and stick to it if possible. However, as we all know, life happens; plans change; things come up; appointments run long; cars break down; and many other things happen outside of our control. What’s important is how we respond. Do we demand that we stick to a plan, even though circumstances have changed, or are we willing to amicably reschedule things as necessary when that works out better for many (if not all) of the people involved?

Again, I encourage you to be flexible as much as possible. It’s a loving action, it helps create better long-term relationships, and it also builds up credibility in terms of showing all involved in your situation that you are committed to doing what’s best overall even if it’s not the most convenient for yourself. Be flexible, and be friendly about it, and you’ll be amazed at how much it can help!

Action Step: This week, look for opportunities to be flexible with your scheduling, and be sure to show appreciation if you’re the one asking for flexibility from others.

RLL 75: Big Changes Means Big Conversations

RLL 75: Big Changes Means Big Conversations

After a brief early-summer sabbatical, I’m glad to be back and writing to you about such an encouraging topic today! Since my last post, we’ve had some serious milestones in my older daughter’s life. She turned 15 recently, and so with that have come major changes: she has her first real job as a lifeguard at a local swim club; she has gotten her driver’s permit and begun to cruise the streets, learning how to apply her book knowledge of traffic laws; and she is interested in beginning to date.

On our recent beach trip, I tried to mimic my daughter’s pose. I failed.

On our recent beach trip, I tried to mimic my daughter’s pose. I failed.

With all of these changes coming fast and furious, we (that is, all four parents) decided it was time for another sit-down conference to discuss these various topics and how we wanted to handle them. As I’ve mentioned here before, one of the major keys to a successful blended family situation is communication, and another is consistency. Thus we wanted to make sure that we all (the four adults and our daughter) understood each other and how we were going to approach these topics going forward. The meeting was a tremendous success (praise be to God!), and from it I took away two major practices that I wanted to share with you, as well as a few other suggestions.

First, always prepare the way through prayer: prayer for each other, prayer for wisdom, prayer for the meeting itself, prayer for the outcomes. Whenever we schedule these family gatherings, and despite how successful they have been in the past, there is always some anxiety that comes in the days and hours leading up to it. Will old hurts be touched on? Will we be able to come to an agreement? What if there is serious disagreement? How will we be able to compromise? These and many other questions fill our heads, and it can feel overwhelming sometimes. What is the solution? To pray and to trust that God will work things out according to His will. So, always prepare through prayer.

Second, we have found that it is helpful to explicitly state the goals of the meeting up front and to refer back to them as much as necessary to stay on track. In any meeting, it’s easy to get distracted by side issues. This is especially true if the topics of discussion are difficult and potentially problematic. Thus, it’s a big help to write down the topics ahead of time and then write down conclusions as they are reached, allowing the meeting to move along regularly as topics get finalized and/or agreed upon.

Lastly, here are a few other suggestions that have worked out well for us.

Sometimes this is what family life is like: goofy, unpolished, and yet full of laughter!

Sometimes this is what family life is like: goofy, unpolished, and yet full of laughter!

Consider having the meeting in a neutral location (that is, not at either party’s house) in order to help everyone feel at ease. We met at a local fast food restaurant with a play area, and this worked out well. Next, consider writing out the agreements made at the meeting and then texting a picture of them to everyone immediately following, in order for everyone to literally and figuratively be on the same page. Third, remember that the goal is to figure out the best solutions, not to insist on your own solution; therefore, remain patient, quiet, and respectful even when disagreeing (“A soft answer turns away wrath.”).

Here are a couple final suggestions: allow enough time for everyone to ask clarification questions about each topic in order to avoid misunderstandings as much as possible. And finally, be willing to give way on non-crucial issues. In this particular meeting, I was very grateful to my ex-wife for immediately enacting one of my suggestions about dating parameters for our daughter. She disagreed with my position, but as it was non a deal-breaker issue, she went along with what I wanted, and I really appreciated it.

As a final suggestion, be sure to express appreciation to everyone who helped make the meeting a success. And speaking of that, I’d like to extend special kudos to my wife and to my kids’ stepfather: I’m sure it’s not easy to be a stepparent in some of these meetings, and they both handled themselves with grace and patience and understanding. THANK YOU to you both and to my ex-wife for making the meeting a success!

I hope these tips are helpful to you next time you’re planning a family conference or even just a quick conversation with your blended family unit. Let me know how else I can help, and I’d love to hear from you!

RLL 74: What Example Are You Setting?

Real Life Leading 74: What Example Are You Setting?

This picture is a couple years old, but it will always be one of my favorites!

This picture is a couple years old, but it will always be one of my favorites!

My experience in being part of a blended family began back in the 1990s when my parents told us that they were getting a divorce. I remember having the conscious thought, “I’ve just become a statistic.” We were told that Dad was going to move out, we were going to live with Mom, and that it was not our fault so we didn’t need to blame ourselves. All of this was perfectly true, and that is how life was structured from that point forward. Dad picked us up for school each morning, so we got to see him almost every day, and we spent every other weekend at his house. He also attended all of our sporting events, school activities, etc, and so we were more blessed than many traditional families in terms of getting to spend lots of time with both parents. It wasn’t perfect, but it worked out well for us because Mom and Dad worked hard to keep things as ‘normal’ as possible.

Around a year later, Mom began dating a man named Brian. Though they never married, I still refer to Brian as my stepfather, and he remains a part of our lives even today (my children refer to him as ‘Papa Brian’). Brian was around a lot of the time, especially for big events and holidays, and he and Dad actually had a very friendly relationship, which struck me (as a teenager) as odd. I’ve always been a bit insecure, and so I wondered how it was possible for Dad to see Mom with someone else and not be angry about it. One day I got up the nerve to ask him, and his response was entirely mature and far beyond my teenage ability to grasp it (though I get it now).

Dressed up for a Daddy-Daughter Date Night last year: fun times!

Dressed up for a Daddy-Daughter Date Night last year: fun times!

Dad said, “Son, when your mom and I divorced, it no longer became my business who she spends her time with. As long as he is good to you and your siblings, I don’t have any problem with him.” Brian was (and still is) very good to us, and Dad never had any problem with him. In fact, we often spent Thanksgivings together: we kids, Mom, Dad, Brian, and even Brian’s dad (“Pops” to us) joined us sometimes. That became our new normal, and it is only when I reflect on it that I realize how abnormal it actually was. Mom, Dad, and Brian all played a huge role in providing us with a stable home life and making sure we were provided for.

What’s the point of all of this? To show the importance of parents setting a great example for their children, even when the situation isn’t ‘ideal’ or ‘perfect’. The importance of their example to us has been driven home in the course of the past decade, as all three of the children (all adults now) are involved in different types of blended situations. My older brother and his wife celebrated their 19th wedding anniversary earlier this year, and during that time they have fostered multiple children of a wide range of ages, some of whom come from very difficult backgrounds and some of whom have difficult parents. My first marriage ended in divorce almost a decade ago, and we have two daughters from that marriage. I remarried almost five years ago, as did my ex-wife, and we live less than two miles apart, working to raise our children well together. My younger sister is dating a man who has a child from a previous marriage. All of us, then are involved in non-traditional family situations, and all of us, without knowing it, were seeing how that could be done well when we were much younger. Our parents didn’t know it, but all three of them were setting an example that would prove crucial to their children.

This little girl is now old enough to begin driving in less than a month. Time flies, so let us make the most of it!

This little girl is now old enough to begin driving in less than a month. Time flies, so let us make the most of it!

Whether you’re part of a blended family now or not, you’re setting an example for your children. Or, if you’re the child, you’re learning from the examples that you see before you and you’re deciding which parts of that example you want to reject or follow. Remember, be the adult you want your children to become, even when that is difficult. You never know who is watching. Finally, when you realize you have not always been a perfect example (because, let’s be honest, we all get it wrong sometimes), be willing to admit it. Go and do all you can to make things right, and then continue moving forward. Part of being a good example is showing our kids how to fail, how to seek forgiveness, and how to reconcile. Make these an active part of your parenting as well.

Action step: this week, write down a few ideas of what you want your example to look like, and then take steps to make it more of a reality.