What do you do if the other parent of your step kids resists your best efforts to get along? Like it or not, if your spouse has children with another partner, you and the ex-spouse are linked. While it may not always work smoothly, or even pleasantly, your step kids will always connect you and the ex-spouse in-law. A positive and cooperative relationship will benefit your step kids and your entire blended family. So, what do you do if your attempts are rejected? Keep trying!
Relationship goals to avoid
What kind of relationship should you expect with this outermost extension of your blended family? Friendship may be possible, in some instances, but try not to get too hopeful about that particular outcome. Your spouse’s ex could have any number of reasons to see you as a threat, and is unlikely to see you as a potential friend. In the blended family world, picking which battles to fight and which to leave alone is key to success, and trying to get the ex-spouse in-law to like you is a good one to let go. Do you envision yourself as counselor or mediator between your partner and their ex-spouse, or between your step kids and their other parent? Please forget about helping any of them work through their issues. Immediately. No matter what you do or say, the more you try to help, the more you risk overstepping your bounds. As limiting as it sounds, communication between you and the other parent of your step kids should focus on logistics like scheduling visitation and parent-teacher appointments. Please do make an effort to make all interchanges cordial and cooperative, because that is what is in the best interests of your blended family, but beyond that, keep the relationship strictly focused on the step kids.
Rules of engagement
If talking on the telephone with your spouse’s ex (or even with your own ex-spouse) often escalates into a shouting match, develop the art of controlled exchange. If necessary, keep a note to yourself next to the phone to help keep things under control. The note might contain hints such as:
(2) Use conversational voice
(4) Stay on subject, use control phrases
(5) Stay cool
(6) Stay within boundaries
(7) Repeat resolution reached or arrangements made
(8) Polite good bye
You might try the following control phrases if things escalate: I am sorry you are upset. Let’s get back to the kids. I understand what you are saying. If tempers flare and they begin to shout, say something to the effect that the conversation has stopped being useful and you will have to hang up if they do not stop shouting. Remember, you are not obliged to listen to angry rants or verbal attacks under any circumstances; the sooner rules of engagement are established, the sooner effective communication can happen. You may be pleasantly surprised at how easily your counterpart slips into a pattern of polite and useful conversations. Really, no one actually enjoys emotionally charged phone calls.
Just as members of your blended family treat each other in a respectful manner, you are obligated to treat the other parent of your step kids respectfully, as well. And while you have absolutely no control over how they treat you, you do have control over your own behavior. Should your best efforts still engender an unpleasant or even an abusive response, your partner should step in and insist that their ex-spouse treat you with the respect you deserve.
As always, when parents and step parents communicate about their children, it is important to lay aside personal issues and focus on the best interests of the blended family children. As well, it is also important for you and your spouse to stay focused on each other and your own relationship, which is at the center of your blended family unit. As a step parent, offer unconditional love and support to your step kids. To their other parent, offer cordial and cooperative collaboration. When you are sincere and persistent, on both counts, your offers are more likely to be accepted. For more information, visit The Blended and Step Family Resource Center.