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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.

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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.

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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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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.

Should stepmom try to get along with his first wife

Getting to know and trying to get along with my step kids is keeping me on my toes, and is more of a challenge than I had expected. I have been reading about blended families who spend family time with ex-spouses on holidays, and even on vacations, so kids can enjoy a sense of stability and continuity.  I really do want to help make their transition to living in a step family easier for my step kids, but is it really necessary for me to be friends with their mother?

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Do a stepmom and biological mom have to be friends

In a word, no. But you do have to put on your big girl boots, put your own feelings aside and put the kids first. If your kids are going to be able to cope in a world of shared custody and revolving residences, you and your blended family spouse, and his ex-wife, need to look at the bigger picture. You do not have to be friends, but you all must be able to function as co-parents.  What is best for the kids is for their parents to be able to manage regular communication, negotiation, and problem solving, in ways that benefit the children. With that in mind, here are tips to help new wives and ex-wives get along.

Have a goal in mind.  Visualize the relationship between you and the kids’ mother. If see yourself arguing with her, or wanting to smack her because she makes you so mad, you can only continue to resent her. You must want to get along with each other.  It sounds simple, but is really the crux of the matter.  People who want to get along make it happen.  People who do not want to get along never manage to.  Picture a working relationship with the kids as your first and only priority

Understand that your step kids already have a mother. Do not try to be their mother, try to take over, or question parenting methods their mother uses. Do not ask your step kids to call you Mom. The kids may feel uncomfortable with it, and their bio mom will almost surely resent it. When speaking to or about their mother, let your step kids hear a respectful tone in your voice.

Make nice

A good way to establish the beginnings of good communication with the ex-wife is to compliment her.

If you think she is a good mother, say so. Tell her you think her kids are great, and thank her for doing a good job with them. Let her hear you speaking kindly of her in front of the kids. Ask her opinion. If you are not sure how to handle a situation, put your big girl boots back on, pick up the phone and ask her what she would do.  Many step moms are afraid to do this, worried it might give the ex-wife an edge; but the truth is, if you ask for help, you might earn her respect as well as some help.

Stepmoms can be part of the solution, not part of the problem

If you and your blended family partner are raising children together after divorce and remarriage, good communication between you and the children’s other parent is not a choice, it is your obligation as parents.  When you marry a man with children from a previous marriage, you promise to do everything you can to support him through life, which means you do not cause him trouble. Your step family needs you to be a part of the solution, not part of the problem. Understand that your husband is tied to his children by more than obligation, and be generous with your cooperation. Never, ever say negative things about his ex-wife when the kids might overhear. Kids have just as much trouble coping with remarriage as they do divorce; being surrounded by positive energy can only make things easier on everyone.

So, whether or not you and the ex-wife get along personally, do your best to create a working relationship that focuses on the needs of your step kids. Stay out of relationship issues between your spouse and his ex, talk her up to her kids, and be available to discuss problems and find solutions. Blended family life has enough challenges. Try to keep communications with your step family counterpart from being one of them. If you need additional assistance, contact The Blended and Step Family for coaching.

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Co-parenting is fundamental to the blended family

When you and your spouse decided to divorce, your thoughts were filled with coping mechanisms and strategies to achieve the split and help make single parenthood more tolerable. As you both began a new phase in your lives, you recognized the magnitude of life changes, and accepted that you and your ex-spouse will simply have to learn how to be effective co-parents. Unfortunately, as with so many other important life skills, parenting does not come with an instruction manual and neither does parenting during, or after, a divorce. What is available, though, is a long list of mistakes other parents in your position have made before you. Here are a couple of important tips to help you and your kids survive the divorce, and perhaps a remarriage.

Love your kids more than you hate your ex-spouse

The divorce may have been about you and your ex-spouse, but it probably does not feel that way to your children. In your post-divorce dealings with your ex, remember to put your children first and act. When you make things difficult for your ex-spouse, either in a courtroom or in child visitation, you make things harder for your kids. Reassure your children that they are loved by both parents, and that your divorce was not their fault. This is extremely important if you and your spouse ever argued about the kids, on any level. They often believe everything was their fault! Never, ever badmouth the other parent. Hearing you say bad things about their other parent puts your child in a terrible position. To agree with you would be disloyal; to disagree would be equally disloyal and extremely threatening. Also, your kids know you used to love their other parent but now have nothing good to say about them. Kids wonder if you could stop loving them, as well. Let you kids know you love them; let them know you want them to spend time with their other parent; let them know you will take care of them.

Do not put your kids in the middle

Do not use your children as messengers between you and your ex-spouse. Virtually every blended family advice article or website advocates keeping kids as distanced from parental battles as possible. Even if your ex drives you crazy, do the talking yourself. This is not only more effective, but can teach your kids by example how problem solving is done. If you need to inform your ex-spouse that medical bills need paying, child support will be late, or even that a scheduled visitation drop-off will be delayed, do not ask your child to pass on the information.  Adult one-on-one communication not only protects your child from a possible angry response which might be more appropriately aimed at you, it helps reassure your kids that even though mom and dad are divorced, they are still parents.

Visitation is for the kids

Support regular visitation with the other parent. Any action that makes spending time with the other parent easier for the kids is in their best interests.  Do everything you can to accommodate time with the other parent. Visitation is not about your time, or your ex-spouse’s time, with the kids. Visitation is about the kids having time with you. Also, remember to keep visitation totally separate from the subject of child support. One does not pay for the opportunity to spend time with their kids, and kids deserve to spend time with both parents regardless of payment status.

Talk about your problems with grownups

Many divorced parents, mothers most often, proudly say their kids are their best friends. Do not fall into the trap of making your child a caretaker or confidante. Let your own friends, adult relatives, or your therapist be your counselors and sounding board.  Your kids need you to be the parent and take care of them. Do not ask them to take care of you. Also, do not involve your kids in discussions about child custody or support. Your divorce, and perhaps your remarriage, is enough to cope with; hearing that one or another of their parents is unfit or a deadbeat can only make kids feel even more abandoned and insecure.

Aim for stability

If you and your ex-spouse have difficulty talking about the kids on any level, it may be better to forget about shifting the kids back and forth between your two residences, at least for a while, even if you have a joint custody agreement. Also, if you can avoid it, do not move the kids to new schools and new neighborhoods. Stability in their home, school, and social life helps children cope with the losses brought about by divorce and changes resulting from the remarriage.

The best piece of blended family advice for divorced parents? Love your kids more than you hate your ex. If you need additional assistance, The Blended and Step Family Resource Center offers co-parenting coaching.