Blended Family Schedules

Creating and maintaining a schedule for your step family

Managing the schedules of blended families living can be a challenge given the current work demands and social activities of multiple parents and multiple households, coupled with the schooling and activities of their children.  Things get more difficult for divorced or separated parents who may not get along and who may find it difficult to communicate about even simple matters.  If these parents move on to second families with their own stresses, schedules and time demands, an explosive time management nightmare can result. Most of us are not in a position to hire a personal secretary to manage our time.  So what can be done?

Shared calendar systemHelp your blended family with a shared Calendar

The single most effective step can be to document parenting time on a calendar shared by the parents.  I recommend taking one day each year to construct a calendar documenting the parenting time for the coming year.  After the calendar is constructed it can be given to the other parent for review and after any mistakes are corrected, it can be blessed and shared as the common agreed-upon schedule.  It also can be shared with other interested parties such as grandparents and even the children themselves.

One may argue that their parenting time is flexible and fluid and that there is no need for such rigid accounting of their schedule.   Yes, co-parenting of non-cohabitating parents works best if each parent is open to accommodating the needs and schedules of the other parent.    But the existence of a calendar does not mean it cannot be changed as needs arise.   However, even if parents are flexible, each parent should do their best to arrange their lives around their parenting schedule and only swap days when absolutely necessary and when doing so will have minimal impact on the other parent’s schedule.

Advantages of planning ahead in your blended family

There are many advantages to having a relatively predictable parenting plan and documenting that plan with a shared calendar. One of the most important advantages is that it allows for long term planning of time away from your children, perhaps with a new spouse.   It’s also nice to be able to look months in advance and plan alone-time.

Another advantage is to remind each parent when they are responsible for picking up their child.   Eventually everyone makes a mistake. In the many years I have been co-parenting, I twice picked up my daughter on the wrong day and once failed to pick her up on a day that was my responsibility.  My 22 year old daughter still occasionally reminds me about the time I “abandoned” her at the day care 14 years ago.  A shared calendar may be especially important in turbulent cases where the two parents find it difficult to communicate.  Once a calendar is constructed and shared, each parent can reference it independently.

Even your children can use the calendar to plan their activities.  For example they may want to get together to work on a homework project with a friend who lives near their mother when they are scheduled to be with their mother, or plan a sleepover with a friend who lives near their father when they are with their father.  Other advantages may involve third parties such as grandparents.  They may want to plan a birthday celebration or just a visit when they know their grandchildren are around.

Another advantage to creating a calendar is that it forces you to interpret the court ordered parenting plan in advance before the scheduled parenting days occur.  As with any written document there may be differing interpretations.  It is better to implement the schedule in advance, to work out any disagreements.  This may avoid surprises and conflicts that could arise when children are picked up or dropped off.

Constructing your calendar for the entire year requires a fair amount of work.  You will of course need your divorce agreement.  You probably need school schedules, a list of holidays, and whatever other data is required to create the calendar. Parenting plans usually specify parenting time in a prioritized fashion. For example holiday parenting time normally overrides normal weekend and weekday parenting time.  Vacation time also usually overrides normal weekend and weekday parenting time.

In the old days I would use a giant erasable wall calendar.  First I would write in my weekday and weekend parenting time.    Then I would look for holidays specified in the parenting plan and replace (physically erase) anything already written in those time slots.  Then I would figure out when the school vacations were and replace anything already written with school vacation week parenting time, then summer vacation time, etc.  At the end of this process I would then transfer everything on my wall calendar to a paper calendar and give it to my ex-wife for review.  After a few iterations the calendar was deemed acceptable.  Then the last step was to transfer the edited paper back to my wall calendar.  It was a bit of work, but well worth it.  For the entire year the agreed schedule was in place.

When Google calendar came along the process became easier.  I got rid of my giant wall calendar.  Instead I did the calculations directly on a paper calendar.  Then I input the contents of my paper calendar to an electronic Google calendar.  When that process was done I shared the electronic copy with my ex-wife for review.  After review and after correcting any mistakes we were essentially done.  Once in Google the calendar can be printed, easily transmitted to other scheduling software, and even downloaded to your phone.  In Google you can also simultaneously display your parenting calendar overlaid by other calendars.   For example you might want to avoid scheduling a work meeting late in the day if you are also scheduled to pick up your children on that day.  You can also set up notification to automatically notify you of parenting time via email, or phone.  If days need to be swapped, it can be triggered by an email that can result in a calendar change that is then immediately available for all those who share the calendar. Things got a lot better.

But still, constructing this calendar each year was a fairly tedious process.  To address this, I developed Calendar Plant.  Calendar Plant at CalendarPlant.com is a free web tool that can publish Google calendars into your Google account.  It is especially useful for constructing parenting plans.  Parenting time is specified with repeating time frames of varying priority.  Time frames with higher priority override those with lower priority.  Holiday information is directly assessable in the tool and time frames can be directly associated with those holidays.  Calendar Plant remembers your data so you can go back to it at a later time, perhaps next year when you are ready to construct your next parenting plan calendar!

~Guest post by Steve Basile of Calendar Plant.

Shared Calendar for step families

blended family

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Six ways to sabotage your blended family

Over the top displays of affection

Sure, you and your blended family spouse are excited about your new love and your new life together, but keep overt acts of affection private. If any of your kids are feeling uncomfortable in their new step family situation, your hugs, kisses, tickles, and giggles are not apt to make things easier for them.

Playing favorites with the bio kids

You can count on your step kids watching to see if they are getting short shrift from you, comparing the expectations you place on bio kids regarding household rules, family chores, permissions, and such. A step kid who thinks he is being disrespected can hardly be expected to act in respectful ways toward you or toward step siblings.

Deny feelings

Some blended family parents hope that by pretending their step family is happily blended and that no one feels loss, lost, or less valued than someone else, they can make it true. No such luck. It takes time, effort, and clarity of purpose to identify, address, and correct these and other feelings common to every new blended family, and create a feeling of unity and personal acceptance.

Parenting by guilt

Many parents feel guilty about the radical life changes inflicted on their children by a wrenching divorce or other family loss, a remarriage, and by being thrust into a blended family.  In a misplaced attempt to make it up to them, some parents suspend or moderate rules, discipline, and behavioral expectations for their kids. Rather than lessening their suffering, this strategy tends to make kids feel less cared for and less secure of their place in the blended family. This strategy also leaves a wide open door for kids to manipulate their bio parent, be dis-respectful  their step parent, and generally cause chaos within the blended family.

Put the kids in the middle

Venting frustrations about an ex-spouse, or the ex-spouse of their blended family partner, is generally a healthy activity for step family parents. Bad mouthing the other parent of either your bio kids or your step kids usually serves only to make the kids feel bad. They may feel bad about you for saying mean things, about their other parent because of the things you have said, but they will most certainly feel worst about themselves. Parents who put their kids in the middle of conflicts with ex-spouses essentially undermine their role as a blended family leader capable of meeting the needs of children.

Ignore your couple relationship

It is easy to put your couple relationship on the back burner while you are so busy dealing with step family issues. Being a step parent is hard work, and it takes time, energy, effort, and a lot of patience. So does growing and maintaining a stable relationship with your blended family partner. Parents of kids in a blended family environment sometimes forget how important it is to have a loving and mutually respectful relationship on which kids can someday base their own, and how important it is to have a true partner to help manage the entire blended family.

If you and your blended family are able to avoid sabotaging your own best efforts, you are on your way to developing a genuine bond that can develop into the kind of blended family environment you and your partner envisioned. Please continue to research and benefit from blended family advice articles and websites online, and seek support and help from friends and community members when you need help. A successful and happily blended family is a reasonable goal. Not necessarily an easy one to attain, but reasonable nevertheless.  If you need additional help, contact The Blended and Step Family Resource Center for coaching.

 

blended family
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The importance of good communication in your blended family

You and your blended family spouse have lots to talk about: step parenting, step kids, biological kids, ex-spouses, visitation, child support, alimony, and the list goes on. It is critical that you communicate about these and other blended family issues. Many of us grew up in households where nobody talked openly about their feelings, concerns, needs, or wishes.  Most traditional families operated on the premise that things almost always worked themselves out; and for the most part, they almost always did. While a traditional family may, at times, be able to get along without much extra effort, a blended family needs to clearly understand and address the divergent demands inherent to step family life.

Nothing is off the table in your step family

You and your blended family spouse ought to be able to discuss anything and everything if you are to be effective leaders of your blended family. Unless you can both feel okay voicing concerns, frustrations, fears, and all the other emotions which affect step parents on a regular basis; unless you can both feel okay talking about step family financial issues, custodial matters, uncooperative ex-spouses or battling step siblings, your blended family can soon spin out of control. You both need to know you can talk with the other about anything and everything; unless you have a clear picture of where your partner stands on these important issues, how can you know what to expect when a problem arises?

Primary blended family relationships

When you fell in love with your new blended family partner, your kids may have worried that your love for them would be moved to second place. They were wrong, but in reality not that far off, especially in kid terms. In kid terms, loving them best can mean getting all your attention, and having your decisions and efforts focused only on them. Couples who center a traditional marriage on their children put their own relationship at risk; couples with children who need help with unresolved feelings of loss or anger are at even greater risk. Ongoing family struggle translates to relationship risk, and you can always count on the step family dynamic for potential struggle. The solution? Focus on keeping your couple relationship your primary relationship. If you two have it together, individual struggles will be easier to handle, and you will be better parents to your blended family kids.

We need to talk

The concept of scheduling regular blended family meetings may seem trite or even a waste of time for some step family members. Nevertheless, it is a communication tool which has proven to be very successful for many step families, especially in the early stages of blending. The first benefit of the blended family meeting is your obvious commitment to establishing a forum for communication between the two groups of people who make up your step family. They help step kids and step parents, and step siblings, begin to see themselves as a new family unit with a common purpose. Blended family meetings also provide an excellent place to model and practice effective ways of presenting a complaint or concern, listening respectfully to others, asking for and receiving opinions, and understanding how and why decisions are made.

Effective communication is vital to your blended family. If you need help establishing your blended family meetings, read blended family advice on this and other step family advice websites, join a local blended family support group, or talk with a family therapist with experience with the special challenges step families experience.

 

blended family

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Remarriage is for grownups

Remarriage in your blended family can be tough

There is a reason marriage is restricted to grown-ups, and blended family remarriages are an excellent example of why this is true. Married life is hard work under almost any circumstance. And when you factor in issues with kids and step kids, ex-spouses, step sibling conflicts, and trying to keep visitation schedules on track, it is a wonder we manage to put any effort at all into our blended family couple relationships. It is important, however, to develop and sustain our bond, because the greatest asset your blended family can have is a strong relationship between its founding members. It takes real discipline, commitment, and a determined approach for many blended family partners to schedule regular date nights.

Dating in your blended family

Dating can be tough, and for single parents, making the time to date is just one of the problems. When you and your partner first began your relationship, however, you did manage to find time to go out on dates, spend quality time together and get to know each other. The mere fact that your blended family is now living together under one roof does not mean you can put dating on the back burner. As a matter of fact, one of the most important things you can do for your relationship is to have weekly date nights. No matter how busy you are during the week, how many kids and step kids you have together, or how much you hated dating when you were single, there is no excuse for not taking an evening out of the week to reconnect with your partner.

Step couples need time together

Even in the heady first months of their remarriage, when blended family newlyweds spend time together, they often discuss – or argue – about step parenting issues, problems with ex-spouses, and other step-family challenges. Constantly slogging through step family problems can lead to resentment and feelings of isolation, and can have a negative impact on a new intimate relationship. Successful blended family couples work hard to prevent their partnership from becoming all about the kids instead of about what brought them together in the first place; their love for each other and enjoyment of being together. The couple relationship is the glue of the blended family, and deserves attention so that the union is strong enough to make it through the ups and downs of step family life. The payoff of regular dating is not only a happier relationship for you and your blended family spouse, but it is also a good way to show your kids what it takes to have a successful relationship.

Dating is an important message

Set a specific time each week for the two of you to share together. If you can, schedule date nights for when your kids are with their other parents, but get a sitter if you have to. A set time keeps you both focused on your relationship, and reminds you both that spending time with each other is important. It also sends a great message to the kids about your adult relationship as parents.  You love your kids and you also love your spouse; the relationship hierarchy in your blended family gives the adult relationship first priority. This powerful message helps support the blended family philosophy that a loving, caring and mutually respectful relationship is the foundation for family success.

Reconnect with your romance


Focus on each other. When you were falling in love, you talked about everything, taking time to learn about each other. Being married does not mean there are no more things to learn or appreciate about each other. Get caught up on what happened during the week. Use date night to remind yourself and your partner what you love and cherish about each other. Share a movie, concert, dinner, take a walk; when you get home, make love. When you are emotionally and physically connected to your partner, life is more enjoyable and problems seem easier to deal with.

Forbidden subjects

On your date night, never talk about issues with the kids, your ex-spouses, or rehash unresolved problems at home. This is not to say you should never talk about those things, just that date night is neither the time nor place.  Discussing ongoing conflicts will immediately kill the mood and are a big reason many blended family couples avoid date night. Date night can only work if it is focused on romance, fun, good talk, and connection.

 

blended family

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Admitting you have a problem in your blended family is hard

People tend to focus on positive aspects of their lives, and parents struggling to manage the challenges of a blended family are no different.  Many are reluctant to talk about their problems with step kids, and it does not help that storybook  portrayals of happily blended families like the Brady Bunch and the von Trapp family can make struggling step parents feel like utter and complete failures; either that, or they have married into a family of flagrantly unlovable children. Neither of these possibilities lends much promise for a harmonious blended family life.

When step kids are hard to love

It is not uncommon for new step parents to feel horrible that they cannot dredge up genuine affection for their step kids. When kids act out, and say or do hateful things, few step parents chalk it up to childish displays of frustration, insecurities, or feelings of misplaced loyalties. It is easy to understand how someone might take it personally if their mere presence in the life of this child, the son or daughter of the person they love, seems to elicit rejection, rage, resentment, and revulsion. If you can identify with this scenario, take heart: it is okay if you do not actually love your step kids, or feel about them the same way you do your biological kids. What matters is that you have committed to helping your spouse raise his or her kids within the confines of your blended family. What matters is that you treat your step children with loving kindness, respect, and consideration. Even when they do not deserve it.

Step parents are often stuck in the middle of the blended family

It happens more often than not. Step children who have neither accepted nor adjusted to either their initial family losses or to the changes inherent in the current blended family remarriage, may act out in ways that can put stress on your marital relationship. It is easy to blame the kids for their outrageous behavior, but sometimes the problem lies elsewhere. How your spouse handles problems of discipline is the telling part of whether you actually have a step parenting problem or a relationship problem.

Separate step parenting problems from step parenting problems

  • Does your spouse downplay your concerns about the behavior of his or her child?
  • Does your spouse refuse to take action to correct problem behavior?
  • Does your spouse act as if you are trying to make trouble for the child by expressing concerns?
  • Does your spouse choose to believe his or her child and disbelieve you when there is a conflict?

If you answered yes to any of these questions…

Stop confronting your step child about their behavior. As long as your spouse fails to back you up or fails to deal with the problems appropriately, the child will neither absorb your concerns nor make any of the behavioral changes you request. Put the blame where it belongs; with your spouse. Problems with a step child can be less to do with the child and more to do with problems in your marital relationship. If you two cannot find a solution, if your spouse continues to undermine you by dismissing your concerns, or fails to discipline appropriately, the situation cannot get better. Unless you are willing to live with an unruly step child until he or she leaves your step family home, or in a relationship where you receive neither understanding nor respect, seek family counseling with a therapist who is experienced dealing with step and blended family issues.

Blended family advice columns abound with guidance on bonding with step kids, earning their trust, respect and affection. They can only help if you and your step family partner are working together toward the common goal of blending two distinct sets of people into one unified group. If your relationship fails, the blended family cannot succeed. Be sure your blended family is built on a solid grounding of mutual respect, understanding, and love between the two of you. Take care of your relationship, and it will be able to help you achieve your goal. If you need additional assistance, contact The Blended and Step Family Resource Center for coaching.

 

blended family

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Blended family remarriages risk failure

Blended family partners are all too aware of the statistics. More than 50 percent of marriages end in divorce, and the divorce rate for remarriages is even higher. Although virtually all of us expect our own remarriages to beat the odds and succeed, all too often unresolved disputes and minor conflicts grow into problems that undermine our relationships. In a bizarre imitation of a failed first marriage, blended family spouses again find themselves experiencing feelings of resentment and being unappreciated, while communication between them diminishes and they become increasingly detached from one another. Simultaneously, the other significant members of the relationship, the children and step children, stand to lose everything…again.

The promise of great challenges

That being said, step family remarriages still hold great promise for us and for our children. As informed and prepared blended family parents, we can make unavoidable conflicts and issues work for us instead of against us, and gain strength from each challenge we meet together. We can rise above the difficulties of creating a single unit from two separate and distinct groups, raising children who are not our own, coordinating child visitation and co-parenting with a less than cooperative ex-spouse, and forming meaningful relationships with our step children and other step relatives. Most difficult for many couples is accepting that opportunities for romance will be interrupted, co-opted, and at times even sacrificed, for the needs of our children and step children. This, too, can become a source of strength.

Create your own rules in your stepfamily

Planning the blended family you want takes serious thought, a clear vision of your goal, an agreement on how to achieve the goals, and house rules that both support the goals and the means to achieve it. It is clear that a successful blended family must be built on a solid foundation: your marital relationship. If you and your spouse find it difficult to spend quality time together at home, schedule regular date nights. Couples who go out for the specific purpose of growing and maintaining their bond find it is easier, when conflicts arise, to remember why they fell in love and why they wanted to blend their families in the first place. Your mutual love, understanding, appreciation, and respect are essential to a home environment that is welcoming, supportive, and accepting of each step family member; step family spouses who support the parenting decisions of the other help establish the stability every family needs.

Co-parenting with the ex-spouse

Many divorced couples are able to put personal feelings and resentments aside for the betterment of their children, and become amazing co-parents. Their fortunate children find it easier to cope with family losses and to accept a step parent and step siblings. They do better in school, have better self-esteem, and see life in a more positive light than peers whose divorced parents cannot get along. Do your absolute best to develop a working relationship with the other parent of your children. Kids thrive on the stability and support they get from caring and focused parents who have no other agenda but the welfare of their children.

When we remember how deeply our children are invested in the success of the remarriage which created our blended family, we can better appreciate the importance of making sure we are doing our best to make it work. Unfortunately, many couples end up in divorce court because they wait too long to get the help they need.  Continue to read sites like this one, join support groups that speak to your step family issues, and if necessary seek blended family advice from a professional therapist with experience in the special needs of families like yours. Focus on creating and maintaining a strong marital relationship that can help you reach the goals you have set for your blended family.