Imagine a family with parents, stepparents, children, stepchildren, siblings, step-siblings, ex-spouses, ex-partners, the spouses and partners of ex-spouses and ex-partners, and extended families all the way around. Is your head spinning yet?
A blended family can have some or all of the above. And, as all of you living in blended families know, having a healthy, functioning family can be a constant challenge.
In my work with blended families, I’ve noticed many of the same issues keep coming up. In this post, I’ll address several issues where I think good progress can be made.
Who parents who?
Often, there is a natural mistrust between the stepparent and the stepchild. The most important thing for a stepchild is to trust the stepparent. This is a sacred promise. If the stepchild doesn’t trust the stepparent, the relationship will be unhealthy and dysfunctional. The stepparent should overcompensate to gain the trust of the stepchild. In this way, the stepparent becomes more of a friend and counselor than a disciplinarian. Explain this approach to all the children and use it as a basis to strengthen relationships.
Regarding discipline, there must be no daylight between parents. This is the same whether the family is blended or not. Parenting differences must be worked out in private so that all the children see is a united front.
There is no one right way for parents to discipline each other’s children. But the parents must have a plan and not wing it. For example, minor issues can be handled by either parent. Major issues can be handled primarily by the bio parent with backup from the stepparent. Share the plan with all children so they understand and know what to expect.
Family rules are set by the family as a whole and address several issues. The standards are the same for everyone. There are no favorites. There are clear, consistent expectations. The rules have ownership from everyone because they are created by the family. Everyone gets a copy and they are also posted prominently in the home. Some examples are as follows:
Sample Family Rules
- Tell the truth
- Respect each other
- Be kind to each other
- Don’t interrupt
- Do your chores
- Only touch other’s belongings with permission
- Attend family meetings
- Have each other’s backs
- Protect each other
- Apologize if you make a mistake
- Accept an apology when given
- Use inside voices
- Keep your hands to yourself
- Knock on closed doors and wait for permission to enter
- Clean up after yourself
- Say hello and goodbye to everyone
- Say please and thank you
Family meetings are an opportunity to air out grievances, allow free expression, solve problems, promote togetherness and show support for each other. They should be held on a regular basis or as needed. Attendance is mandatory and no meeting is held unless all are present. Some sample guidelines are as follows:
Sample Family Meeting Guidelines
- All topics are welcome
- Write down and share topics in advance if possible
- Everyone hugs before starting
- Everyone gets to speak
- Show respect at all times
- No interrupting
- No raised voices
- No judgment
- Helpful comments only
- Keep your sense of humor
- Call a time out and take a break if things get heated
- Work toward a resolution all or most can agree on
- Everyone hugs at the end
Blended families are the most challenging and also have the most opportunity. The goal is to have a stronger, healthier, more loving family where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.