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 64: How to Handle Difficult Conversations in Blended Families

Real Life Leading 64: How to Handle Difficult Conversations in Blended Families

Do you remember being a teenager and getting into an argument with someone that you already didn’t like very much? Words got louder, the exchange got more and more heated, and as a result you both ended up saying angry and hurtful things. Sometimes the exchange may have gone even farther and resulted in a physical confrontation. Now, imagine that same scenario between two ex-spouses (without the physical altercation at the end): hurt feelings, loud voices, angry words, hurtful tones, and ultimately nothing getting accomplished or solved. Unfortunately, this situation is all too common in blended family situations. So, what’s the solution? Well, as with most things, the solution is to be found in Scripture.


Proverbs 15:1 tells us that, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Many of us have heard those words in our past, though perhaps we never fully realized how powerful they actually are. The solution to de-escalating a tense and anger-filled situation is often as simple as answering quietly and in humility. The volume, tone, and voice we use often send a more powerful message than the actual words we say. And when we remember that, we are more likely to get things accomplished.

When heading into a potentially difficult conversation within a blended family, it’s important to be clear on a few things ahead of time: 1) What is the purpose/goal of the conversation? Whatever that is, stick to it and keep the conversation relevant to that topic. 2) Genuinely seek out the best solution, even if it’s not the one that you have proposed. Do your best to keep your ego out of the equation. 3) Remember that the only person you can control is yourself. Do that, even if the other person chooses not to.

Why are these so important to remember? Well, consider the alternative: the conversation gets heated, the original purpose gets lots, more hurtful words are said, and you end up worse of than before and without having solved anything. Instead, consciously choose to remain calm and respectful. “Well, you don’t know what they did!” or “You don’t know what they said!”, someone might say to me. You’re correct! I don’t know what your ex did or said, but I do know that you can still choose to be in control of your emotions and your response.

How do I know? Because I have learned, through failure before success, from experience and observation, that it is possible to keep your temper and ego in check regardless of what else is being said to or about you. I’ll be the first to admit (as I did just a moment ago) that I have also failed. But the principle remains true, even in our failure: “A soft answer turns away wrath.” When I have been able to remember that, the results have always been better. I’ve never once had a good conversation that involved heated words and loud voices. However, I have seen situations where a soft answer has helped calm things down and keep them on track. Is it easy? Certainly not! Is it worth it? Absolutely.

[Full disclosure: It would be easy to ‘read into this post’ things that I haven’t said. Please avoid the temptation to ‘read into it’ any implied or covert complaint or criticism about my ex-wife or her husband. None is intended; the post, like all others, is simply written from my first-hand perspective. Thank you!]

Action Step: This week, whenever you’re faced with a tough situation, pray for calm, for patience, and for the humility to be respectful even when it’s difficult. You won’t get it right every time, but when you do you’ll see that the results are much better.

RLL 63: Over-Communicate with All Adults Involved

Real Life Leading 63: Over-Communicate with All of the Adults

We all know what it’s like to be frustrated over a lack of communication: events get missed or are only found out about at the last minute; important items get left or forgotten at various locations; key information doesn’t get shared in a timely manner; and as a result, tensions increase and feelings of resentment abound. I have been guilty of poor communication resulting in all of the previously mentioned situations, and so I can speak from experience about the importance of good communication, especially in blended families.

Sign-language is not my preferred method of communication. But my daughter rocks at it, so I’m learning!

Sign-language is not my preferred method of communication. But my daughter rocks at it, so I’m learning!

In our four-parent, two-household world, communication is the oil in the engine: without good communication, everything breaks down rather quickly. We have two daughters, a teenager and an almost teenager, both of whom have complex schedules due to school, sports, and friends. All four of the adults have busy schedules with work and taking care of the kids. Thus for us, communication is paramount. Like everyone else, we’re not perfect, but I can tell you that we’ve gotten pretty good about communicating with each other. I’ve found two keys from our situation that I want to share with you today.

First, choose a format that works for you, and then USE it.

The world we live in has faster, more reliable communication than humans could have imagined in the past (though Guglielmo Marconi might disagree, what with his inventing wireless radio over a hundred years ago and predicting even better wireless communication at the same time). There are an infinite number of social media options and apps, in addition to regular texts, phone calls, and emails, that allow people to stay in touch. Each one comes with pros and cons, so evaluate what works best.

For example, texting is what we use the most, supplemented by the occasional email or phone call. But text messages, as most people know, are notoriously difficult to interpret in terms of the tone (even if you use emojis). Thus, if you are texting, be sure to extend each other grace in the event of possible misinterpretation (for more info, see last week’s blog post: The bottom line is this: you have to use the technology for it to work, so be sure to be consistent about your contact with all the other adults involved.

Second, when in doubt about whether or not to share something with the other adults, SHARE it. When in doubt, communicate.

I was very blessed to be able to share this information at the National Head Start Association conference in Florida just before Christmas

I was very blessed to be able to share this information at the National Head Start Association conference in Florida just before Christmas

In my opinion and experience, it’s always better to over-communicate than to do the opposite. If I text my ex-wife and her husband about something that happened in our girls’ lives during their week at our house, and it’s not as big of a deal as I thought, that’s ok. They still know, and they genuinely appreciate me keeping them in the loop about our kids. The same works in reverse: when something happens that even might be a bit deal, I like to know about it, and so I appreciate it when they let me know as soon as possible.

The biggest danger here is the danger of texting (or emailing, or whatever you choose) too often. That is a concern, but I’d argue it’s worth the risk, generally speaking. Why? Well, consider the alternative for a moment: the kids are struggling at school, or one of them is very upset about an issue with a friend, and that issue carries over to the other household the next week. Now, the other parents are blind-sided by the issue when they could have already been in the loop and thus better prepared to help the children out or at least to encourage them in a difficult spot. Again, I think it’s worth the risk, especially if all the adults involved are of the same mindset about over-communication (which, funnily enough, is also a conversation worth having!).

Action Step: talk with the other adults involved in your blended family, and figure out the preferred method of communication. Then, start to use it more regularly.