Step-parenting

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.

RLL 67: Our Daughter Goes to a Dance

RLL 67: Our Daughter Goes to a Dance

This is probably the only picture in which we weren’t doing something ridiculous…which is an accurate representation of us as people as well.

This is probably the only picture in which we weren’t doing something ridiculous…which is an accurate representation of us as people as well.

I was on the phone with my best friend recently, and I related to him how my older daughter is now almost 15, she’s growing up, and she would be attending a school dance this weekend. He said, “Doesn’t that make you scared?” And I said, “Yes. All the time. Not a day passes without me praying for my kids. But I also can’t stop it, so we need to do the best we can to help her do well as she grows up.” (Full disclosure: I learned that from my parents and in-laws…I would have been OK trying to keep my kids as kids for many more years if it were solely up to me.)

After that conversation I started thinking about how we, as a large blended family, can help our kids to grow, develop, and learn as they mature. This week’s opportunity to do that was that our oldest child was going to be attending a dance. Because of that she and her stepmom (my wife) went dress shopping, then decided to alter a dress we already had, then asked my mother-in-law to do the alterations, and hey presto: a dress for a dance was made! In addition, our daughter asked if her mother could come over in the afternoon before the dance to help her with her hair. And this is where it could get sticky.

In the past, we’ve had many conversations among the adults in our blended family about “parent” things that we want to be involved in. We try hard not to step on each other’s toes or to unintentionally assume roles that would cause jealousy or resentment. So when Carly asked if her mom could help her with her hair, our immediate response was, “Of course!” We were reminded this week of two lessons that I wanted to share with you.

Carly was unimpressed with my attempt to pose the same way she was. I have no idea why; I nailed it!

Carly was unimpressed with my attempt to pose the same way she was. I have no idea why; I nailed it!

1) We always want to encourage positive cooperation between both houses. This is true for a lot of reasons: logistics are complicated, people are busy, and cooperation is better than a lack of it. But more importantly, we want to cooperate also to set a good example for our kids. My parents divorced when I was in middle school, and they continued to work well together through the end of my father’s life; that made a powerful and lasting impression on me, and so we have tried to do the same thing in the lives of our children.

2) We want to encourage our kids to have strong relationships with everyone else in our blended family, not just ourselves. I want to have an amazingly strong relationship with each of my daughters, but not at the expense of their relationship with each other, their mom and stepdad, their stepmom, or their little brother. I want to encourage them in all of their familial relationships because then our family will be more harmonious in the long run. So if Carly wants her mom to be able to help her prepare for a big-deal event, we want to try to accommodate that as much as possible. When they tell stories about what their brother did when they were with their mom last week, we want to listen; not just out of politeness, but out of genuine interest and curiosity, to let them know we care.

This kind of moment makes all the rest of life worth it.

This kind of moment makes all the rest of life worth it.

Carly’s mom came over and helped with her hair, my wife and other daughter went with Carly to do pre-dance pictures with her friends, and then Carly had an amazing time at the school’s dance. We had an excellent time all working together to love our kids. And for that, I’ll always be grateful. Is it easy to make things like this happen? Not at first, no. But the more often you do it, the easier it gets.

Action step: This week, look for ways to actively cooperate with the other household and for ways to encourage your children in having positive relationships with everyone else in both houses as well.

RLL 66: Blended Family Birthday Party

RLL 66: Blended Family Birthday Party

The birthday Lou at a local Mexican restaurant, celebrating in style!

The birthday Lou at a local Mexican restaurant, celebrating in style!

This past week, our blended family experienced a giant win! Our youngest daughter turned 12 years old, and we had a wonderful birthday party for her, with all the parents and siblings and three grandparents all in attendance at a local restaurant. We were there for about an hour and a half, and we all had a great time together. There was laughter, storytelling, singing, celebrating, cards, cake, and great fellowship. It was a wonderful example and reminder of how positive and uplifting blended family life can be. Having said that, it wasn’t always this way, and so I’d like to share with you a few thoughts on how we’ve been able to work together to bring about such inspiring situations.

First, understand that it takes patience and time. We’ve celebrated many birthdays for our girls together, and we’ve always tried to have them be positive and happy times for the kids. I think we’ve been mostly successful overall, though this one was noticeably more uplifting than some of them have been. It’s taken a few years for us all to be as comfortable as we are now, and it was enjoyable to see my ex-wife having a great laugh with my wife’s parents; just as it was fun for my girls’ stepdad and I to have a good time talking over dinner as well. We all also enjoyed the “kabloon” (read: balloon) antics of their young son throughout the meal. So, first: be patient because it’ll take time.

The birthday Lou after being serenaded by the excellent wait staff

The birthday Lou after being serenaded by the excellent wait staff

Second, we have found that having birthday parties in a neutral location often works better than having them at one or the other family’s house. We have tried it both ways, and though the house-based parties have been fun, they also have been somewhat more subdued (at least for the parents) in some ways, probably because it just feels territorial. But the party at the restaurant this year, pool parties at a local swim club and skating parties at a local rink in the past; all of these have gone very well. It seems that it’s just easier for everyone involved to feel more at ease when the location is on neutral ground.

Third, it will take practice. Our first few efforts at having parties together went very well for the kids and the adults, though again there was a lot of tension. I give my wife and ex-wife a lot of credit, because they are the two most involved in planning these events, and they have always tried to work well together in terms of preparations, decorations, and distribution of tasks. The more we’ve done these joint events, the better they seem to go. Also, don’t believe the old saying that practice makes perfect. It doesn’t. Rather, practice makes permanent. So establish good basic habits while also being willing to experiment to see what works best for your family: weeknight or weekend, shorter or longer party, passive party (restaurant) vs. active party (skating, dancing, etc.), friends involved or just family, etc. There are a million different ways to celebrate your kids. The most important thing is to work together to make sure they know that ALL of their parents love them.

The birthday Lou with her little brother and one of her grandfathers

The birthday Lou with her little brother and one of her grandfathers

As a final thought: it’s also very important to make sure that everyone knows it’s not a competition. We purposely didn’t do gift exchanges at the party (we did cards, and the grandparents brought gifts) from the parents; these were done at home. This way, it doesn’t even have the appearance of either set of parents trying to out-gift the other set. Rather, the focus was on celebrating our daughter and making her feel extra-loved and appreciated.

How did we do? Well, you be the judge: at the end of the meal, the birthday girl came and sat on my lap for a minute and said, “Dad, I’m so thankful that we can all do this and celebrate together. It was great to see all of you talking and laughing, and I’m grateful it can just be fun and happy and enjoyable. I know that you all love me, and I’m glad you could all be here.” I count that as a major win!

Action Step: This week, begin thinking about whatever your next celebration is, and reach out to the other household to see how you can work together to make it special for the kids.

The birthday Lou with her Poppa and G

The birthday Lou with her Poppa and G