As a counselor, parent, and stepparent, I understand that even great relationships take work to remain strong. The couples heading up blended families face some particularly predictable potholes in the road ahead. But there are ways to navigate the challenges. Here are some little ideas to consider—not magic, but helpful.
When you start the morning
As you stand amid the morning chaos of everyone getting ready for their day, take a mental snapshot of your family. Renew your belief in your spouse and the children. You married for love, and now you have the opportunity to learn to love your spouse’s children as well. Keep your focus on the present. Keep the reasons why you married out in front of you as a daily reminder of why you said: “I do.” Remember why you chose this special person to be with, happily ever after. It is easy to lose sight of the big picture and get tangled up in the small stuff, most of which will not matter in the long run.
If you are challenged by a willful child
Accept the child who is headstrong. It is a strength that such a child questions what’s being asked of him. He may even share this trait with your spouse. Accept that you will be challenged by one or more of the children. Find each child’s redeeming qualities and focus on those. It may not be an easy task, but “easy” is not always beneficial.
Give your skeptical child several options to choose from. Remember, you cannot control a child’s attitude, feelings, or opinions, but you can direct that child’s energy toward more positive behavior. Always try to be firm but fair.
Ask how they did it before
It is okay to ask them questions. Ask your spouse and kids how they did things in their previous/other family. Be open to new ways. Learn about your spouse’s conflict-resolution approaches and your kids’ methods of expressing their desires. Knowledge is the key to understanding.
Children often do better when you respect and value them enough to listen. Respect their lives from before and understand they are looking for stability. They are looking for what feels familiar and safe.
If they like pineapple on pizza
Be flexible. It may not be your favorite but it’s not worth causing a fight over. If you or your children like something else you can always find a way to compromise. Order a pizza with two different halves or just order two pizzas. Perhaps you’d even be open to trying it their way, just once. These small changes are practice for the bigger ones. Pick your battles. This is not one of them.
As the day ends
While everyone gets ready for bed, review your expectations. Are they realistic? Your way of doing things is probably different, especially with respect to parenting. Sharing the responsibility of blended family parenting requires a willingness to see another way and to accept some ways that may not be consistent with your own. When all the kids are down to sleep and the dust has settled, you and your partner can review the day and discuss how you each might have handled things differently. Don’t forget to acknowledge and celebrate your victories. The goal is to get better over time.
In the week ahead
Be goal-oriented and make it happen. Don’t just talk—walk the walk. Get out there and be proactive. Be an example of how you would like your spouse and kids to be. Be open to trying things in a new way and remain flexible. Remember, nothing worth having is ever easy but often worth it. What is one new thing you can compromise or negotiate on this week?
Want more help in creating a happy blended home? Read my new book, Blended Families: Recipes for Success