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Admitting you have a problem in your blended family is hard

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

When step kids are hard to love

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

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

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

Separate step parenting problems from step parenting problems

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

If you answered yes to any of these questions…

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

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

 

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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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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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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.