blended family

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Transitions are normal in a blended family

As a step parent in a blended family, you may wonder how your own children and your step kids feel about transitioning between two homes, especially during school vacations. Navigating the life changes inherent in having to split their time between divorced parents is difficult enough, but when you add step parents and step siblings to the mix, it can be hard for kids to know where they fit in and how to feel.

Recognizing visitation transitions

During the summer school break, your blended family home may be full of children from previous relationships, or perhaps your custodial children are with their other parent for summer visitation. Either way, the kids are probably feeling a little uncertain about what is expected of them. They may wonder if they will be allowed to telephone their custodial parent, whether they will be able to stay in touch with friends, and how they should act around their step parent and step siblings. Such stresses over visitation realities are common; however, transitioning back to a more normal schedule is often equally difficult.

Give visitation transitions with biological parent time to work themselves out

Depending on the age and development of the child, levels of emotional struggle, degree of difference between his or her two homes, and other factors, many kids need at least one full day to recover. This often is necessary at both ends of visitation: both on arrival at another home, and on returning to their usual home. For the first day, at least, allow the child to simply enjoy being where he is without making any demands on his time or attention except to feel thoroughly welcomed. Once he has settled in, ask your questions, listen to his comments and respond to them, and take your time getting your relationship back on track.

Prepare to have your parenting style critiqued

Not that it should make a big difference on how you and your blended family partner choose to raise the children in your house, listen with compassion and understanding if one of your kids gives a more favorable review of the way his other parent handles things. Many times, the non-custodial parent tries hard to make things easier and more fun at their house; they often feel as if they need to play catch up with their kids’ affection. Being a more responsible parent is not a license to criticize the other, nor is it necessary to point out their failings to your kids. As a matter of fact, criticizing your ex-spouse in front of the children is never a good idea. The parenting style you and your blended family partner have chosen to adopt speaks for itself, and whether they realize it or not, kids thrive in a stable atmosphere where they know what is expected of them.

Give yourself a break

If you can, schedule visitations to and from your step family home during the same time period. If your kids and those of your spouse are all away at the same time, you get more time to yourselves to invest in your relationship, travel, take part in adult activities, and to enjoy the peace and quiet! Take advantage of any and all opportunities to re-connect and celebrate your romance.

The opportunity for your child to spend time with his or her non-custodial parent is important; both to the child and to the parent. Support this connection, and do what you can to make these visitations important and satisfying experiences. Blended family life is rife with change and evolving relationships, and visitations are a prime example of how transitions affect step family kids. With understanding, love, and a clear and open mind, you can help your blended family kids navigate the changes, transitions, and the ever-evolving relationships laid out for them.

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Tone important in blended family communication

How blended family conflicts or behavioral issues are addressed has a direct impact on how readily family members are willing to take the steps needed to reach a solution to the problem at hand. As step family leaders, the parents set the tone for blended family meetings and one-on-one discussions; generally, conflict communication can be categorized as assertive, aggressive, or passive. For discussion to be effective, the participants need to feel safe, cared for, and listened to.

Types of conflict communication in your step family

Assertive communication is characterized by statements that describe the feelings, ideas, or concerns of the speaker, rather than a description the ways in which the listener is wrong or what he should and should not be doing. Accordingly, aggressive communication has the effect of setting the listener back on his heels, reacting to criticism, an accusation, a threat or ultimatum. Passive communicators tend not to say what they think or feel, but get angry when their issues are ignored. As you can probably surmise, assertive communication might tend to work best.

Assertiveness talks, hostility walks

Assertiveness means taking responsibility for your own feelings, and not criticizing others. Imagine a scenario in which you would like one of your step children to stop dumping the entire contents of his gym bag on the laundry room floor. An aggressive communicator might complain she is sick of picking up after him, and define him as lazy and inconsiderate. A passive communicator would probably just make a sarcastic remark and then be even more irritated the next time he does it. An assertive communicator could tell her step child how much she appreciates not having to dig into a damp gym bag to find dirty laundry. She might then add that since all step family members are responsible for putting away their own things, she would appreciate his leaving her with just dirty clothes to take care of. When you practice assertiveness, you will experience more effective and enjoyable communications, no matter who they are with. You do not have to be perfect all the time; step parents come no closer to perfection than anyone else. Just take each conversation as it comes, and assertiveness will begin to come naturally to you.

Feedback sandwich

Finding a good way to give feedback on blended family marital issues or ongoing problems with step children, without making the other person defensive can be a challenge, as well. It can help to insert suggestions for improvement or critique between two positive statements.

  • Know exactly what you are going to say before you begin talking.
  • Find something positive to say to begin the conversation, being sure it does not also contain a complaint.
  • Present critical feedback by describing your feelings or observations on the issue at hand without laying blame, and suggest a means to improve the situation, if you have one.
  • Acknowledge the need for continued progress with an enthusiasm that anticipates a successful outcome that will benefit your blended family.

Blended family conflicts do not have to be divisive. With careful thought, mutual respect, and sensitive words, everyone can get their feelings heard, understood, and valued. Blended family meetings are an excellent way to develop skills which support these values, and to practice them in a safe environment.  Think about what your words convey to the people in your blended family, consider how your tone of voice affects your message, and practice assertive communication. If you need additional assistance, contact The Blended and Step Family Resource Center for coaching.

 

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When getting it off your chest and talk to your blended family is sometimes a bad idea

Blended Family communication is not always helpful. Various self-help advisors counsel that being direct and honest about our feelings is a good way to get our needs met. This is good advice, but it does deserve a little bit of temperance when it comes to dealing with blended family conflicts. As one of the adults in a blended family situation, we sometimes have to temporarily put our own feelings on the back burner.

Venting does not always clear the air in your step family

While it may feel good to express outrage at things the step children have or have not done, things our blended family spouse has or has not said to the ex-spouse, or perhaps something the in-laws have alluded to, sometimes venting anger can do more damage than good. Words spoken in anger are usually regretted right away, and they often inflict damage to relationships with your spouse and step children, and even family friends.  Seldom are the short-term feelings of vindication we get from blowing off steam worth it.

Blended Family time-outs for parents and partners

The next time you are angry, either with your blended family spouse or with one of your step children, consider taking a time-out.  You will be able to communicate much better when you are calm, and less likely to say something you might later regret.  Admit you are angry and ask for time to cool off before continuing your conversation.  Be clear that you intend to come back to finish the conversation in a moment or two, when you have calmed down. Handling your anger in this way demonstrates both your willingness to talk about the issue and your desire to listen and speak respectfully.

Roadblocks to effective listening

Many barriers get in the way of our ability to listen to one another, whether it is between step family spouses, or step parent and step child. Some of the most common roadblocks are:

  • Thinking you already know what they will say and responding to that
  • Interrupting to argue a point or worse, to finish the other person’s thought
  • Rushing in with a solution before hearing the entire problem
  • Filtering out what you do not want to hear
  • Continuing to do an unrelated task while pretending to listen

Everyone deserves to feel that the people in their lives value what they have to say. By practicing good listening skills, you encourage people to share their feelings, ideas, and questions. As parents, we want our children to talk to us, so we owe it to them and to ourselves to listen every time they do. As partners leading a blended family, we not only need to communicate well enough to manage our blended family, but in such a way that our relationship flourishes in trust and acceptance that is grounded in caring and respectful communication. Practice healthy communication without barriers in your step family home. If you need additional assistance, contact The Blended and Step Family Resource Center for coaching.

 

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New blended family step parents have a lot on their plates when you consider they must learn to balance their regular lives with a new love, a new relationship, new living arrangements, and new step children.  Turning this set of new experiences into a cohesive family unit does not happen overnight, and it does not always happen smoothly.  Along with all your other duties, it is up to you as step parents to create a blended family home atmosphere that can contribute to family bonding.

Supportive environment in your blended family

Make your blended family home a place where open communication is encouraged. Set regularly scheduled family time to settle disputes, to learn about each other, and begin creating blended family memories. Establish clear rules that everyone understands and which are consistently enforced. Give positive reinforcement for positive behaviors. Bonding comes easier in an environment where everyone feels accepted, appreciated, and loved for the people they are. Encourage personal interests and special skills, and celebrate participation.

Teams need support

Show support for your team of family members by attending shows, games, competitions, concerts, and other events in which your blended family kids are involved.  Your being there not only demonstrates your consistent love and support, but it gives everyone more common ground on which to build the solid relationships your blended family needs.

Step family group activities

Look for an activity that family members can enjoy together – join a community theater group or a ceramics class; learn karate together; play in a family softball league; go camping, hiking, or cycling as a blended family. Literally every activity you and your blended family take part in is a piece of family history in the making. When it comes to making memories, blended families are already playing catch-up, so get the ball rolling as soon as possible.

Blended family gallery of photos

As soon as possible, create a prominent display of blended family photos in your home. Seeing pictures of themselves alongside step siblings and step parents can help make it easier for kids to feel a part of the new step family group. It is healthy for kids to display photos of themselves with their non-custodial parent, although you may wish to hang those on bedroom walls. Let everything about your blended family home visibly support family unity.

Practice good communication

The best way to get to know someone is by talking. In your blended family, let every subject be open to age-appropriate discussion, including current events, religion, ethics, friendship, morality, and sex. Let your kids know where you stand on these life-forming issues. Ask for their perspective on issues; listen respectfully, and honestly try to see their point of view if it is different from yours. You might play a little bit of devil’s advocate and thoughtfully point out flaws in their reasoning, but remember there is no wrong answer for someone who is asked for an opinion.

Game night

Family game night is a great tool for step family bonding. Keep team alliances rotating so that step kids and step parents, and step siblings, all get equal time on the same team. Try to stay away from teams made up of Her and her kids vs. Him and his kids, which can actually work against your goal of bonding together as a blended family unit.

Always keep working on your marital relationship

How well your blended family bonds together into a mutually loving and respected unit depends, finally, on you. A step family asks a lot from step parents. First, it requires that you make compromises in your falling-in-love and learning-to-live-together time line. Secondly, it requires that you act in loving ways toward step kids you barely know and who may be resentful of your mere presence in their family. Thirdly, each of you needs to appreciate the sacrifices made by your blended family partner. Truly, your step family relationships will suffer if your founding relationship falters, so give it the attention it needs and deserves.

There really is no clear cut recipe for blending two groups of people into a solid and loving family, but remembering to be kind, caring, considerate and respectful of each other, and taking the time to consider what is and is not good for family unity can certainly lead you down the path to blended family satisfaction.   If you need additional assistance, contact The Blended and Step Family Resource Center.

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The state of your marriage is the state of your blended family

Creating a satisfying marriage is not exactly easy, but it’s not impossible, either.  There are certain traits most successful couples have in common, certain skills that help cement their partnership and pave the way for a satisfying home life. As you will note, some of these attributes can be a bit more challenging for blended family partners to acquire.

Create a sense of couple-ness

Two people beginning a life together build a commitment wall that sets them apart from their families of origin. They create a mindset of standing together against the world, making their own rules, putting their loyalties and efforts into their marital relationship.

Build your blended family on a foundation of love and empathy

Successful couples learn to identify with each other and with the marriage, open to feelings of the other and sharing a vision of a future together. In happy marriages, couples talk about what is good for or harmful to the marriage, as well as what is good for each individual. A stable blended family relationship results when both partners are truly appreciative of the other, especially when it comes to taking on the responsibility of raising someone else’s child. Trying to be the best step parent you can be is something that deserves respect, gratitude, and love from your step family partner.

Become parents
In a nuclear family, the couple can meet, fall in love, and build their connection and their romance before having children. They live together, learn about each other, develop routines and patterns, and then make decisions about when to have a family together. The shared creation of a family is an act that often bonds and fuses couples together.

Cope with crises

In any family, crises are inevitable and, generally, unanticipated. Learning to cope with crises involves

being able to realistically acknowledge and consider how the crisis is affecting everyone. That means both people must work to maintain perspective, distinguishing between their own fears of the worst case scenario and reality, rejecting the temptation to lay blame, and intervening whenever possible to avert a new crisis.

Fight fair

Every couple needs to learn safe ways for handling conflict; their relationship depends on it. First off, we need to make conflict safe. Conflict is inevitable, and setting ground rules both honors and respects the relationship itself. Successful couples create a safety zone, where strong anger cannot threaten the marriage or the relationship, where there is no name calling, insults, or screaming, and where there is no physical violence – ever. Fighting fair also means dealing with the conflict at hand, without throwing in a kitchen sink full of past complaints.

Keep love and sexual intimacy strong

Intimacy does not necessarily mean having a lot of sex, although there’s nothing wrong with that!  But it does mean making time and giving focus to this important aspect of your marital relationship.  Strong couples make it a point to do the things they like to do together, and recognize that together-time is vital to maintaining their bond.  A passionate and playful intimate connection helps a couple stay focused on each other, no matter how many outside distractions there are. Set aside a specific date night, when you can enjoy each other’s company.

Walk the walk

You have control over your relationship. If you want to be respected by your partner, be respectful. If you want to be understood, be understanding yourself, even when it is hard.  Always think about the type of relationship you want to create and be a co-creator, not a reactor. Laugh and play together. Be sensitive to the challenges your blended family presents to each other and to each other’s children. Keep in mind the person with whom you fell in love, even on days when you do not agree or are in the middle of a conflict. Become the partner you would like to be married to. Teach your kids what unconditional love looks and feels like. The results will be worth it. If you need additional assistance, contact The Blended and Step Family Resource Center.

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Anger is a feeling, not an action

How many times have you reminded your children that being angry does not make it okay to hit, to throw things, or otherwise act out? As parents, we remind our kids that anger is just a feeling, an uncomfortable and unhappy feeling, but feelings do not have their own actions. While we may not be able to control our feelings, we tell them, we can learn how to control our actions. These are important life lessons, and lessons we need to remember as adults.

Blended family is a tangle of feelings

It has been said that a blended family home is home to a tangle of feelings. Blended family members seem always to be looking to each other for approval, inclusion, and a sense of kinship, but often they are burdened with unresolved feelings that interfere with achieving those goals. It is no surprise that step family living is chaotic and filled with conflict, given that a blended family generally forms after sorrow, loss, upheaval, and uncertainty. Building a new life of such a difficult foundation is a challenge, but the rising numbers of remarriages after death or divorce gives rise to hope for the future to many families in pain.

Keeping an eye on your blended family goals

As parents in a step family, we are all too familiar with the range of emotions we experience on a daily basis in our dealings with each other, with our own bio kids and our step kids, between step siblings, and even perhaps with an ex-spouse. Feelings of loss, anger, inadequacy, frustration, fear, worry, among others, meld with feelings of hope, love, commitment, and loyalty for a blended family.  For a blended family, life can be a continuous lesson on how to overcome an environment of conflict, suspicion, rejection, misunderstanding, and insecurity. Ultimately, you want your step family to reach and thrive in a stable atmosphere of mutual support and acceptance. Remembering the life lesson about feelings and actions can help.

Setting emotions aside means action first, feelings second

When you have a conflict with your ex-spouse, it can be hard to put your emotions aside. You know from experience, however, that emotional outbursts usually get you nowhere you want to be, so you ignore your own frustration while dealing with important co-parenting issues. This same approach is invaluable when dealing with an angry child or step child. Make believe you are not feeling guilty that your son had to change schools when you established your new blended family home; pretend that the spiteful words coming out of your step daughter’s mouth do not hurt. When you set your own emotions aside, you can listen more openly and sympathetically, and respond to your kids like a caring, mature adult who has their best interests at heart.

Fake it until you make it

If you are waiting for your kids, step kids, blended family spouse, ex-spouse, or the nosey neighbor next door to change what they do to drive you nuts, you may be waiting for a very long time. How you react to any of them is entirely up to you. The other people in your life are not responsible for making you more comfortable, or for changing whatever it is about them that you dislike. You are in charge of how you respond or react to them, and if you are not satisfied with the results, change your own actions!

If you continue to do what you have always done, you will get what you have always gotten. Let your actions guide you to a new outcome. Let your actions overstep feelings of suspicion, fear, anger, insecurity, and frustration that just get in the way of true communication.  Once you take this important step toward being a better listener and more supportive member of your blended family, everyone benefits. If you need additional assistance, contact The Blended and Step Family Resource Center for coaching or check out our many other resources.