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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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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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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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.