Not long ago I joined a local Step Mom group I found on Meet Up. I was interested because I'm always up for finding out how other Moms in similar situations handle things. After meeting up with this group I figured out that it was pretty much a "gripe about your husbands X wife" group and that's not for me.
I did walk away from it, though… finding out that several step-moms have similar challenges and dynamics in their blended families to mine. Each situation is different depending on the ages of the kids and expectations and parental agreement and so forth.
With my situation, both my husband and I have former spouses who are absent in every way. They both have chosen to opt out of their childrens lives… which of course causes it's own set of issues. Great that neither of us have an X to deal with yet much harder on the child who wonders why that parent chooses not to participate.
There's no simple formula that works for every family. Each family has to learn what it is that they need and work on it together.
There are some growing pains that come with communication in a blended family. Tradition had it where the parents met, dated, married and then had kids or some similar order. The parents had time to get to know each other before they got married and express their expectations to a degree.
With a blended family, dating is even challenging in many cases. The couple is getting to know each other at just about the same time as they are getting to know the other persons kids. Learning how to communicate with each other is even more challenging in this situation.
If you are already a parent in a blended family, take some time to write out things that are important to you. What is important for your children. In our family, my husband and I have agreed that the individual blood parent is the ultimate decision maker for any sort of big issue concerning the child.. like going on trips with people outside the family or major medical issues and ya know.. stuff like that.
We have also agreed to communicate in private if an issue comes up that we disagree on. When the kids see the parents arguing, they think they can drive a wedge. Often times the kids will try to pit one parent against the other parent in a more exaggerated sense than what goes on in a family where the kids are born from the same parents together.
My husband and I have learned to communicate together involving anything that affects the whole family, the schedule, dating, activities, dress expectations, and so forth. We have learned to balance out the whole family together.
Communication from Outside
We have also had to learn how to communicate with our own family members as a blended family as well. Just as we as step parents learn how to interact with the children of a new partner, that partners parents and your parents are learning how to interact with the new children in the family.
This can be a bumpy ride for many. Some families love the.. The more the merrier approach and are wild about the new family members. Others take some getting used to. When there is suddenly a new child or children in the family who are not babies and who are not blood relatives.. it can be difficult for family members to relate. It's important that there be communication in some form about how families should interact with new kids.
I was talking to a friend the other day whose oldest son is a step son to her husband. Her mother in law neglects to include him in some activities or events or sometimes does not acknowledge him. It can be hurtful when you feel your child is being left out of family activities or not being acknowledged in the same way as the other kids.
In dealing with this sort of situation with my own family a good friend made a great suggestion. When a child is left out, simply let the offender know that whatever activity the other kids are offered does not fit with my family goal.
When you look at my previous post you can get an idea of what I am speaking about. When you sit with your partner and talk about what you want for your family ahead of time, then there is a distinct boundary you both can see and feel when someone chooses to step over it. When I set a goal to be a cohesive family not to be offended by outside forces.. well that is pretty clear that no family members is allowed to leave someone out. When a grandparent asks to come get some of the kids to go out and not another or others you can simply say.. that doesn't fit in with our family goal, I don't want (kids name) to feel left out of the family.
Eventually they get the message that your expectation is that all the kids will be included or none will. With some families this is intentional and with some, they just don't think about it. When a relative calls and only invites the ones they are blood related to I simply say back to them.. I'm sorry (and then I name the kids they requested) are not available to do that with you today. They get the message.
A 2 Way Street
Often times kids will accuse the step parent of playing favorites with their own children. It's important to take a look at that. It is hard to step back and be honest with yourself and ask.. "is that what I'm doing?" In some situations I was and I had to make some adjustments. For a while it was just me and my son so it was tough to break out of the way I was doing things. Other times, I felt that they were trying to manipulate the situation as kids often try to do.
We both have done our best to show love and affection all around. It's important for all kids to feel loved and safe. It's not always a picnic to show love for a child who is resentful and angry toward you. It's often times easy to feel beat up when you put yourself out there and commit to raise another persons child and you feel you are doing your best with that child and they have a hard time showing love to you. In that situation, I let the kids know that sometimes… it's just as hard for me as it is them. It's not easy to learn a new kid just as it's not easy to learn a new parent. When the feel free to air their grievance (with some parameters of course) then they can put it out there. What they say may not be totally accurate in the story but it's how they feel about the situation. When they feel safe enough to air it, give it respect and calmly explain your thoughts on it and the way you see it.
One thing my husband has always said to his girls is.."you don't have to love her, and you don't have to like her, but you do have to show her respect because she's my wife and she's an adult.". It lets the kids know that he's not expecting to dictate how they feel, he's just setting the standard for how he expects them to treat me.
Respect is also not undermining the other parent. If I were to allow my son to do something my husband already said no to, with out talking to my husband about it first, that would not be showing respect. We have had some growing pains with this and now we have a pretty good grip on it. The step parent also needs to respect the rights of the family.
It's Not Perfect
My oldest step-daughter used to feel like an outsider. She would complain that all the kids she went to school with had these perfect families.. that all the kids she went to school with had both of their original parents that lived with them. I started teaching her how there are lots of kids in blended families and that some kids are raised by grandparents and aunts and uncles or by foster parents. Shortly after that, we moved out of our apartment into a house .. a new neighborhood with new kids. She immediately made friends with one girl who was being raised by grand parents and one who was being raised by a family friend because neither of her parents could get it together.
I talked about my own family. My parents were married for 54 years until my dad passed away. My parents raised 6 kids. I told her that even though I came from a family that reminded in tact and the same with her dad, it wasn't perfect. Every family has it's challenges. There is NO family that is perfect and that we don't expect our family to be perfect either.
After a while, when she saw how these new friends interacted with their own parents and how dysfunctional they were, she started to appreciate that perhaps the other parent being absent wasn't as bad as she thought it was. It still stings for our kids that they have an absent parent.
Don't Talk Ill
Seems simple enough but it's not always easy. Don't talk I'll of the X's. I don't call my X husband names or speak negatively of him in front of the kids. I don't talk negatively of my husbands X either or call her names.
When my son asks me questions about his biological dad, I'm as honest as is age appropriate. I don't lie or make up stories. I do let him know that if his dad wanted to contact him, he definitely knew how to get in touch. My husband does the same. Both of the other parents made the decision themselves to be absent.
I figure that eventually, the kids will grow up and if they wish to pursue a relationship with that other parent, they will find out on their own what sort of person they are. I also mention that… if we were once married to them, they weren't ALL bad. They had some good attributes to them.
One of the things I love about my husband is that he's always willing to grow. I love that because I constantly strive to grow. It's important that we grow as a family. In order to do that we have to be willing to constantly review and revamp what we have set up for our family. This year writing out a goal for the family was great! We talked about it with the kids. We feel it's important that they know that we as parents have made mistakes but well… kids don't come with instructions and we are learning with them.
I really believe that the family that plays together, stays together.
Making fun an integral part of the family structure is important. Who wants to be in a family that's not fun? Find out what the kids desire to do and then invent your own family fun time. Our family loves family movie night at home. We also plan fun activities when we go to visit relatives. We make sure they have fun on vacation but it's not just the kids or just the parents who have fun, it's all of us.
The Blended Family Challenge
When I chose the title, I wanted to attract readers who find it challenging to be part of a blended family. I also wanted to offer up a challenge.
I challenge you to create an intention for your family. Write it down… discuss it with the family and let each say what it means to them. I challenge you to face your challenges head on and create a fun, safe, loving and real environment for ever family member.
What is YOUR family goal?