Blended Families

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.

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.