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Blended family conflicts are to be expected

It goes without saying that a blended family will have its share of step family conflict. Conflict is part and parcel of families that are a blending of divergent people with different experiences, family rules and expectations, and mixed loyalties. Feelings of loss, anger, blame, and suspicion color relationships that children are thrown into, and parents generally feel a great sense of guilt over what their children have endured. When you toss uncooperative ex-spouses into the mix, feelings can run high.

On the defense in the face of conflict

Often, when people get into a conflict with their step family partner, the kids, or with their ex-spouse, they cope by going on the defensive. Some arm themselves with a list of reasons why they were justified in whatever was said or did, how they are not being respected or are being abused, and where their opponent is wrong in their thinking. Going on the defensive entirely disregards the feelings and ideas of the other person, can serve to intimidate, and often silences opposing views, but cannot get to the crux of the matter because the real issue never gets discussed. Unresolved conflict that is swept under the carpet inevitably continues to grow until it detonates in an explosion of resentment and ill feeling; when the explosion is then defined as an over-reaction to some minor issue, resentment grows even more. Playing defense is clearly not the solution to blended family conflict.

Personal victory often a relationship loss

It is difficult to reach a resolution to conflict when one or both of the people involved are focusing on being right rather than on resolving the conflict. Needing to be right, or perhaps needing the other person to be wrong, is incompatible with conflict resolution and insensitive to the needs of the other person.  Make sure you are not being heavy handed in your dealings with the kids, and be sure to hold your marriage above any conflict with your step family spouse.  Face each conflict with a mature approach that fosters communication, understanding, and resolution.

Setting the scene for conflict resolution

You have control over the atmosphere in which your conflicts take place. Atmosphere matters. You can make sure the kids feels safe to come to you with their problems, and feel confident that you will listen without correcting or interrupting, and will play fair with their feelings and needs. You and your blended family partner can agree that no matter how heated arguments get, a difference of opinion is not a threat to your relationship. You agree that you will approach every problem as team members looking for a solution. Make your blended family home a true safety zone, where there is no physical violence. Ever. In your blended family home, make it easy to present, discuss, and solve problems important to the people who live there. Conflict can be a calm, mature discussion between people who respect each other, who both listen and truly try to understand each other.

Family meetings are good training for conflict resolution

The family meeting has become a standard in most blended family homes, providing an excellent venue for effective communication, the foundation of conflict resolution. In a step family meeting, step siblings can practice argument and negotiation skills in a safe environment. Step children and step parents still a little unsure of each other can observe each other comfortably, and perhaps learn to understand each other better in the give and take of discussion. Blended family guidelines rule all family meetings, which means no name calling, no yelling, no attacking, and no hurting anyone intentionally.

Conflict resolution is a life skill that, once learned, can lead your kids to a successful life in which they feel competent and capable of meeting and overcoming obstacles. Conflict resolution is a life skill that can make your dealings with your ex-spouse, your partner’s ex-spouse, a difficult co-worker, or anyone else you wish you could avoid. Work together on resolving your blended family conflicts in a patient, caring, and understanding manner, and reap the benefits of great communication. If you need additional assistance, contact The Blended and Step Family Resource Center for coaching.

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Blended family household rules and behavioral boundaries

As parents, we want our kids to learn self-discipline, self-reliance and self-motivation; these important life skills can help them be successful throughout their entire lives. As parents in a blended family, we also want to live in a home that is stress-free, organized, and a place of caring relationships. We can accomplish these goals by establishing blended family household rules grounded on a solid foundation of consideration and mutual respect.

The importance of guidelines in learning life skills

As adults, we know that most wisdom comes out of learning from our mistakes, but also recognize that as parents we must teach children how to get their needs met in appropriate ways and how to get along with others. Kids also need to learn about the relationship between effort and achievement. By setting behavioral boundaries, we teach that self-control is often needed; by setting consequences for rule breaking, we demonstrate personal responsibility and encourage self-discipline; by insisting on mutual respect and consideration for everyone in all situations, we teach self-worth and the value of others.

Talk about the specific needs of your blended family

It is important that you and your blended family partner sit down and discuss the kinds of rules and guidelines your particular step family will need. Guidelines can make your experience as step family managers a bit more satisfying, but their real purpose is to give your kids a stable and loving home that is strong enough to nurture them. Take into account the ages, personalities, and special needs or abilities of your children; look at where you all will live; and implement your personal values in creating guidelines for living together as a blended family. For obvious reasons, it is best to do this before you merge your two families. Talking about your individual expectations for the blended family can give you both a clear picture of important parenting similarities and differences.  If you find that either, or both, of you need to modify parenting styles or routines which would undermine new guidelines, changes are better made by the biological parent alone.

Thou shalt, thou shalt not

The behavioral boundaries and rules you and your blended family partner establish are entirely up to you and the needs of your particular family. Generally speaking, successful blended families share some common elements in their written expectations.  These include:

  • Everyone will treat and speak to each other with consideration and respect
  • The resident parent and step parent are in charge
  • Rules apply to all blended family members, even those who do not live here permanently
  • Regular family meetings are a safe place for discussion, disagreements, and conflict
  • Family members share assigned chores and responsibilities
  • No favoritism; everyone is treated, loved, disciplined, and rewarded equally

Many step or blended family experts agree that discipline is often best handled by the biological parent in a blended family setting. Depending on the ages of your kids, you may wish to ask them to suggest appropriate consequences when someone breaks a rule. At any rate, for your blended family rules and guidelines to be effective, everyone must be well aware of all rules and all potential consequences.

Presenting blended family rules and expectations

Once your rules are written and reviewed, you should plan when, where and how to introduce the new rules and guidelines to the rest of your blended family. This is an important meeting, as it can help establish you as equal partners in step family leadership, and can also lay the groundwork for future family meetings, a useful tool in blended family leadership strategy. Unless you are very good at improvisation, it is a very good idea to prepare your presentation, and consider what you will say, and how you will say it. Be sure you follow your new rules as you present them!

Kids need boundaries to feel safe and to learn. Parents lead, teach, and love best in an atmosphere of cooperation and unity. If your blended family rules address values you cherish, respect the individual differences of each step family member, and promote a sense of being loved and valued, your family can thrive.  When you establish and enforce boundaries out of a loving responsibility, good things can happen.  If you need additional assistance, contact The Blended and Step Family Resource Center for coaching.


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Etiquette for dealing with your ex-spouse

Some blended family parents post notes on the refrigerator or next to the phones to help them deal with an ex-spouse in a positive way.  Notes are especially helpful when we are really angry or when there are kids in the room. The following ten rules of etiquette for communication with an ex-spouse put the welfare of children first, the basis on which good parenting decisions are made. You may find them useful to your blended family.

The ten rules of good ex-etiquette

  1. Put the children first
  2. Ask for help when you need it
  3. No badmouthing
  4. Biological parents enforce household rules, supported by step parents
  5. Do not be spiteful
  6. Do not hold grudges
  7. Use empathy when problem solving
  8. Be honest and straightforward
  9. Respect each other’s turf
  10. Compromise whenever possible

Putting the children first is the cornerstone of all effective dealings with an ex-spouse. Making the right decision is easier when you can remove your own personal interests, hurt, or anger and use the welfare of your kids as the criteria for both discussions and decisions.

Asking for help from an ex-spouse may feel awkward, but sometimes he or she is your best (or only) choice. If you should be picking up the kids, for instance, but are stuck in traffic and your blended family partner is busy, phoning your ex-spouse could solve the problem; asking for help demonstrates good will and respect for him or her as a parent. As well, if you are late picking up your step kids, asking your partner’s ex-spouse for help might be the answer, and earn you respect for putting their needs ahead of your own feelings of discomfort. 

If you can’t say something nice about the other parent, don’t say anything at all. Divorced and step family parents sometimes forget their children have dual loyalties. Even a seemingly insignificant comment about Dad being late … again … can make a child feel badly about your bad feelings.

Bio parents enforce household rules for their own children, and receive unconditional support from their blended family spouse on parental decisions.  If, however, the step parent is a primary caregiver, or is at home with kids of their own and coordinating household rules for the entire step family, then he or she should be consulted when making parental decisions.

Being spiteful and holding grudges against your ex-spouse is poison to you and to your chances of making a success of co-parenting your kids. Resentment, attempts to undermine or blame, and hateful words can prevent you from moving on with your life and wholly embracing your new blended family. Most damaging is the negative impact these things have on your children, who are always watching how their parents interact.

Empathy for an ex-spouse can give insight into their situation and feelings, and help you to stay more positive during conflict. Your own ex-spouse likely feels threatened by your new partner, and your position as step parent probably represents a similar threat to your partner’s ex-spouse, too. Combined feelings of loss and fears of being replaced by a step parent are powerful and frightening. Try to be understanding.

Being honest and straightforward with your ex-spouse demonstrates self-respect for yourself and your parental decisions. This clear message can often prevent a power struggle between ex-spouses. Besides, your children are watching, and they need to see and hear you be confident about your ability to take care of them.

Respecting your ex-spouse as parent of your children means that you do not try to control them, their lifestyle, or their household rules. Chances are, you could not control his or her actions before your divorce, either. The fact is, we can only control what happens in our own homes, and offering respect to the other parent of your children helps to lay the groundwork for positive co-parenting. If your child’s mother or father does not offer you respect, you cannot control that.  However, you can set a good correct example for your children.

Compromise is the key to solving conflict, opening the discussion for what is important: the children.

Long story short? Blended family advice is that things work better when you keep it about the kids. If you need additional Blended Family Advice, check out some of our resources online, and also contact us for Blended Family coaching.


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Plan for blended family bonding and unity

When single parents fall in love and plan to blend their families, they sometimes fall prey to a narrow view of what to expect. Love sometimes does that. It makes us feel like everything is okay now. Good thing, too, because otherwise, many people might never attempt to build one blended and unified step family out of two groups of people who come with so many personal issues. Building a blended family comes with its own set of challenges, and if you are to succeed with yours, you must plan early and plan well. The plan you set in motion is the foundation on which your blended family will be built.

Mental preparation for new blended family relationships

Think about your step family relationship goals, not just the relationship with your new blended family partner. Many new couples are so focused on their own happiness they do not realize that others may not be so happy about the planned blended family.  It is important to set aside your blissful feelings long enough to realize that everyone has a lot of hard work ahead of them.  For instance, think about how your relationship with your children will be affected when you become part of a blended family, and make plans to help ensure the effects are positive ones. Think about what kind of relationship you wish to build with your step kids, and how to achieve it. Think about how you might form a cooperative and positive relationship with the ex-spouse of your new partner; he or she will ALWAYS be in the mix when it comes to planning for your blended family.

Get organized and get organized early in your step family

Before you and your new love merge your two families, have some serious talks about how you plan to manage your blended family. Your first discussions may involve a comparison of disciplinary styles, and a negotiation for revisions that will suit everyone. Changes in household rules are often easier to accomplish prior to the actual blending of your families.  Establish house rules that assign household chores, behavioral guidelines, and disciplinary tactics. You should decide whether step parents will discipline step kids and under what circumstances immediate action would otherwise be justified.  You will need to discuss how you plan to manage co-parenting of non-custodial children, visitation schedules, and financial obligations.

Your blended family is not a practice run

Please be sure you are committed to your new relationship before involving your children. Many couples believe that living together first, to see how well everyone gets along, is a good idea. Rather than being a cautious move, this is dangerous strategy. Dangerous not only because it provides an easy exit for acceptable relationship failure, but it puts the hearts and minds of your kids at risk. They have already suffered terrible losses and experienced more changes than they deserve. Please protect them from an unnecessary loss by knowing your own minds before forming your blended family. A blended family can only thrive and survive if its managing adults are stable role models and leaders.

Talk with each other about your plans for the future. Think about what is best for you, and for your children, and make decisions based on careful consideration and solid decision-making for the long run. You may decide that trying to form a new blended family at this time in your lives may be more detrimental than helpful to the development and security of your kids, despite your affection for each other.  On the other hand, you may know in your heart of hearts that you are ready to take on the special challenges inherent to blended family life, and have the commitment and dedication necessary to hang in there through good times and bad.  You are confident that your special relationship can provide a loving and constant foundation for the blended family your children need. Love sometimes does that, too. If you need additional help, contact The Blended and Step Family Resource Center for coaching. We’re here for you.

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Blended family meetings are good for you

Not many of us were brought up in families that held meetings, so it is understandable if some of us are not very keen on the idea of meeting regularly as a blended family. Yet, virtually all blended family or step family experts strongly advocate holding family meetings, and holding them on a regular basis! Let’s remind ourselves why regular meetings are necessary and how blended family members can benefit from them.

Why are blended family meetings necessary?

Meetings are vital to blended families because our members do not yet share common history, rituals, or memories, and we have not established methods of resolving differences, misunderstandings, and conflicts. Blended family members cannot draw on the slowly evolving understanding of each other and of the family dynamic in the same way first families can. Plus, the stressful combination of loss, divorce, change, loss, remarriage, and more change present in a blended family makes it imperative for step family parents to help their merged families cope with everyday life. Blended family meetings are also a great way to learn effective communication skills.

How else can family meetings benefit a blended family?

Blended family meetings, like them or not, represent our best chance of finding out how our kids are doing with everything we have thrown at them. The family meeting is our best chance at getting feedback on how well we are doing as parents and as step parents. It is our best chance to make a positive impact on the bonding processes that step parents, step kids and step siblings are all undergoing simultaneously. A blended family meeting is an excellent reinforcement of parental authority and leadership, and a wonderful exercise in cooperative living among people who care for and respect each other.

Meetings with the step family help manage family issues

Set aside a specific time each month for a regularly scheduled blended family meeting, to stay in touch and to address family problems. The most successful blended families have a plan for conflict resolution in place from the very beginning so that each member of the step family knows what to do when a problem arises. Family meetings, when handled properly, are a great way to resolve family conflicts.  Family meetings are not bitch sessions, nor are they a forum for fault-finding, blame-laying, or kitchen sink recitations of pet peeves. The family meeting, as a source of conflict resolution, works best when only one subject is addressed at a time, and there are established rules to let everyone know exactly what to expect.

What your family meeting may look like

The key to a successful blended family meeting is that the parents in each family establishes their own rules.  What works for you is correct for your blended family, so be open and flexible and mold your method of conflict resolution to your own group of individuals. That being said, you might agree that anyone in the family who is upset can request a family meeting, and that when a family meeting is called, everyone must attend, no excuses.  A date and time is set for the near future, and everyone attends.   It is a good idea to have the person with the problem speak first at your family meeting, explain their concern, and then invite family members to honestly help find ways to solve the problem.  The goal is conflict resolution, not additional conflicts, so no one is allowed to lose their temper, call names, or lay blame; if someone does, everyone asks them politely to stop it.  The goal of the family meeting is to look for solutions together, and everyone stays at the table until everyone agrees on a solution.  A successful family meeting is orderly, good natured, and addresses one problem at a time.

If the idea of a family meeting still seems trite or contrived to you, give it a try anyway. Not everyone is comfortable taking part in a round-table discussion that may touch on hurt feelings, anger, frustrations, fear, concerns, or complaints, but these are the things that help make up every blended family – yours, mine, and everyone else’s. Let your blended family meetings teach your kids how to face and deal with difficult issues calmly, intelligently, and with grace.   If you need additional assistance, contact The Blended and Step Family Resource Center for coaching.

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From a reluctant extended blended family member

These words may sound a little familiar to you: I resent being a part of the blended family my ex-spouse has created. I never imagined my kids living in a step family, or myself either, for that matter. Since our divorce and his remarriage, the kids live with me half of the time and the other half with my ex and his new wife. This makes me a not-so-happy participant in his new step family. Because we share custody, my ex-husband and I discuss the kids on a regular basis, but we usually talk on the phone so it is relatively painless. What has always been really difficult, though, is being in the same room with my ex and his new wife, like at school or sports events for the kids. I am looking for blended family advice on how I can avoid having to see them together as a couple, and seeing her with my kids.

Your ex-spouse is not an ex-parent

Your ex-spouse may no longer be your spouse, but he or she will forever be the other biological parent of your children. It is easy to understand why you find it painful to be around your ex-spouse. However, when you both attend important events in your children’s lives, you are there as Mom and Dad. Your being ex-spouses is irrelevant.  Each time you head out the door to support your kids, remind yourself that this event is not about you, not about your ex, not about his or her new spouse; your feelings about either of them does not come into play. When you focus on your role as parent, it all gets easier.

Redefine your relationships

Here is a hint to make dealing with your ex easier: stop thinking of them as your ex-husband or ex-wife. When you refer to your ex-spouse in conversation, use the only title that now matters: my kids’ dad, or the mother of my children. At the same time you begin to think of your ex-husband or ex-wife as a parent your kids love and need in their lives, also redefine his or her new spouse. They are no longer your replacement, the cause of your divorce, or however else you may have labeled them. This person is now your child’s step parent, and it is in the best interests of your kids that you make peace with this reality. Blended family kids whose parents get along do much better personally, socially, emotionally, and develop healthier relationships as adults. You can help your kids accept and feel at ease with their new step parent by showing them how it is done

Coping mechanisms in a blended family

It is important that you and your ex, and the step parent of your kids, learn how to be comfortable in the same room together. Children generally want their parents in attendance at events like graduation, marriage, childbirth, and other important milestones in their lives. Parents who cannot get along well enough to attend these events without high levels of drama or suffering are sometimes not invited.  So the time to learn how to cope is now. Here are some ways to make your encounters with your ex-spouse and new partner bearable.

  • Wear something you look great in. Smile.
  • Take a friend along so you have someone to sit next to and chat with. Often, seating assignments come in blocks for family members.
  • Visualize talking with them. Yes, you absolutely must make polite conversation with your kids’ other parent, and with his or her spouse. Talk only about the kids.
  • Give yourself a reward for having undergone the ordeal.

If you are resentful of the blended family you find yourself in, consider how your kids feel. They did not ask for a step family arrangement, either. Do your best to set aside your personal feelings when it comes to helping your kids cope with blended family issues, and take advantage of school and sports events to practice getting along with your former partner and his or her new spouse. Nothing makes delivering a great performance on the field or on the stage feel even better to a kid than seeing his divorced parents making an effort to get along, for his sake. If you need additional assistance, contact The Blended and Step Family Resource Center for coaching.