There is no doubt that two’s company and three’s a crowd. Especially in a blended family, because two could multiply to four or six… Let’s face it, being a stepparent in a blended family is even more challenged when the BM (or BD) is consistently involved. Don’t get me wrong, that is a terrific thing. Terrific! However, often that birth parent will be butting heads with you and your spouse or any number of combinations on several different issues. For some, you and the BM may agree but your spouse is not “on board”. In extreme blended families, the birthparent may not even be involved in the picture but on their terms- occasionally throughout the year. Its selfish, its unfair, and it has a terrible affect on the kids. Stepparents feel like their stepchildren are actually their children while uninterrupted in their parenting role, but as soon as the BM (or BD) reenters the picture for a whirlwind visit, phone call, or even custody battle- all stepparent’s (perceived) rights, their rules, expectations, and appreciation are overshadowed because this is, in fact, the birth parent . As a stepparent we respect that but when we are treated as “non-factors” in relations to our stepchildren it can create a whole mess of problems. This can cause resentment, anger, rejection, and other aversive feelings in the stepparent. The children are already struggling with the loyalty issue- they know you take care of them, as the stepparent but they also know that they want the love and attention of the birthparent far more than they want your approval. In their mind, you could come and go but their birth parent will always be their “mom” or “dad”. Just something to consider the next time the “baby mama drama” begins. I have a few thoughts on how to deal with the other birthparent as a stepparent. Stay tuned…
1. Allow the bioparent to be the disciplinarian, or atleast have the final say. Alleviates any animosity or confusion here. Think about it, if you already discussed the rules and consequences then there will be no problem
2. Make some intentional family time i.e. eating the dinner together at the table, attending an event or planned trip together
3. Communicate with your spouse when you are having a problem with something that is going on. You may be doing this already, so I encourage you to keep it up! If your not, I encourage you to definitely start
4. Choose your battles- I’ve talked about this time and time again and I will CHOOSE to say it again. Is the fact that the baby mama calls your spouse a “dead beat” in front of the kids reason for you to cuss her out in front of the kids??? Be the bigger person here!
5. Pray for your own peace, pray for your spouse, pray for your children, pray for the birthparents, pray for everyone involved because everyone has been hurt to some extent in this situation. Keep the peace within! Only God can change things.
I would like to share with you the 5 essential To Do’s as a stepmother.
- Establish healthy “me” time and a positive support system. We all need someone who will be impartial and not too critical to be our shoulder to cry on when drama pops up in our lives. Leave those negative, trouble maker friends alone at this point. Negative begets negative. Use this opportunity to pray and ask God for peace in your home, for serenity. Call a girlfriend and vent. Or take a walk or exercise as a stress reliever.
- Nuture your relationship with your spouse. If you have date nights or special time alone together (i.e. after the kids are in bed) you will be doing your blended family a huge favor. Statistics on blended families aren’t good but the bottom line is that the couple relationship is the foundation and if it’s damaged or not strong then the family will surely suffer or even fail.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate. This is so important in all relationships but vital to the blended family. As the stepmother you may want to initiate this if you see it hasn’t happened yet. Sit down with your spouse and discuss discipline, visitation, communication with the birthmom, how your house will run (rules and consequences). Open the door of communication with your stepkids and allow them to share their feelings with you even if they are negative feelings- just listen. They will learn to appreciate your open ear and respect you for not trying to change them or “rule over” them. Remember as long as your rules and consequences are set (and posted for all to see) they can’t challenge you without hearing about it. Back up your spouse in decisions and keep an united front going.
- Plan ahead of time to have family time together. This has to be intentional. Often times your spouse may make up plans or exclude you from plans but if your intentional then it will show your intentions on staying involved and nurturing the family. If nothing else, at least have mealtime together at the dining room table.
- Choose your battles wisely. Sometimes we need to just “let it go.” A power struggle will only damage your already sensitive relationships. Ask yourself “Is this worth the fight?” Come on, life is too short and unless you want your relationship to suffer, let it go and discuss it at a later time alone when you are not so upset about it.
Don’t know how. Communicate, plan, and be honest. That’s how. Stop being afraid of their reaction or what other people will think. You have to listen to your spouse and they should listen to you. Its the only way you can communicate effectively. Communication includes face-to-face, phone, voicemail, texts, emails, letters, notes, body language, meaningful gestures.
I admit, its not easy getting someone with whom you haven’t enjoyed being around to join “your team”. Marriage is work. Part of that work is to create intentional time being a couple. Remember those romantic dates that you encountered when you were courting. Well, don’t let them be a part of history. Carve time out of your busy schedule, and “get busy” spending time together. Talk over a romantic dinner. Take a quiet walk at your favorite park or in your neighborhood. Go roller skating or putt-putt golf. Either way, it has to be somewhere you can talk. You can’t “talk” at the movies though. But you can talk at the flea market!!! Anyways, once you start spending special time alone together (find a babysitter!) you will feel more comfortable expressing how you feel about certain situations.
Remember there is a “way” to communicate. I listed several means to communicate. But I want to give you some additional tips such as you never want to start off with a blaming statement. Use “I” messages and follow them up with what you want from the other person. I know you’ve heard this before. Its in all the therapy literature/websites. But its true. When you start off with “You make me mad when…” you will get nothing but a defensive response and your spouse will close their ears to what ever your saying before you say it!!! So it takes some clever wording here.
For instance, let’s say you felt cut down when your spouse told your stepchild that he could go outside and play even without cleaning up his room as YOU told him. First, wait until you are alone- i.e. that evening, or another day when things are calm and your alone- then began by saying “I felt cut down the other day when I told your son to clean up before he goes outside and you let him go out without cleaning anyways. I want you to back me up when I make a reasonable request to the kids.” You gave an “I” statement (by simply starting with I, it gives you ownership of the feeling instead of blaming them for it). And you told them what you want them to do next time. One more tip for communicating wisely is to begin with a positive comment or two before you go to your “I” statement. For example, “I want to thank you for taking care of the yard, I know its alot of work. I like how we can work together keeping our house clean.”
Its not always clear and simple, but its important to lay out our frustrations in a reasonable way. If you can communicate, your relationship will do nothing but blossom and be built on honesty and trust. Communicate with your spouse today. And you’ll be suprised at their readiness to get “onboard”.
It is important to not just communicate with your spouse and family but there is a way to do it. When you have an issue with someone you should be ready to tell them what you like, what you don’t like, and what you want to see happen. I work with children i a school setting and we have used the “Bug and A Wish” concept. “It bugs me when…I wish you would…” But everyday conflicts need a little more discussion than that. Always begin your concerns with positive feedback and observations first. Use “I” statements as to be the owner of how you feel. Such as “I feel __ when ___. I want ___” This also alleviates people’s need to be defensive of your accusations, because to them that’s what your doing accusing them. Hold family meetings. You can see a great example of this on reality TV i.e. Run’s House on MTV. This is an opportunity for the parents to stand in agreement with an united front. Have the rules laid out, discuss, listen to eachother, and resolve issues brought up. You may have to table some things and you don’t want to turn a family meeting into a them vs. us feel either. Try to work out as much as you can in an appropriate time frame or agree to disagree until the next meeting is called. More positive discussion between family members can be done during meal times around the table when the family sits down to eat together. Get the calendar out and plan visits (if your a blended family). Be proactive at your time spent together. Create a family night or time where you interact doing positive activities such as game night or volunteering at a mission every other month or so. Consider adjusting your communication plans as needed but the most important thing is to COMMUNICATE. *As a member of a blended family, it is your job to be on the same page as the head of the family. Lead by example! Good luck!!
You know you have times in your life when you are ready to call it quits on your relationship, but you must ask yourself is the grass greener? I know of some situations in which persons have ran out of one bad situation to another. First of all, you have to reflect on what is the problem? How did you contribute to the problem? What can you do different? What results do you want to have? What results can you live with? Now this is not for “extreme” situations i.e. abuse or infidelity… I am talking about situations in which a mere change in your outlook/mentality, your attitude, your response to your mate can elicit a change in your relationship. When your tired of being unhappy, you have the choice. The only person you can change is yourself. If you make a change in you, just imagine how your POSITIVE changes can affect your relationships. Best believe your authenticity to change will be challenged. But Isn’t it worth a try?? Read Reality Check: Stepmother Chronicles by Anjalon Edwards, LMSW available at amazon, barnes&noble and borders.com.
Communicating within the blended family can be difficult. If you are a bio parent, you may already have emotional obstacles to effective communication with your ex. And if you are the step parent, sometimes you aren’t sure how much you should say or how involved to get. Whatever your position within a blended family situation, don’t let fear and anger discourage you from speaking up about how to best raise the children. Give each other space and time to digest what the other is saying or suggesting. Making drastic changes with the visitation time i.e. increased visits or a lack of visits is NOT in the best interest of the children. Discuss it. If one parent notices a child behaving one way but the other parent does not witness this, it’s OK. Listen to the claim, check it out, it may be true. Children do act different when they are in different settings. Where at mom’s house the child may have to follow stricter rules while at dad’s house, the child may have more leniency. Accept the fact that there is a difference. Ofcourse, if the child’s safety or well-being is at risk, a strong stance on creating a more stable and safer environment is priority. When changes do occur, decide who will tell the child, it could be one or both parents. On the other hand, if a stepparent is included or excluded from decisions, that is fine as long as it is explained to that person and they are a part of the process. Don’t dictate to a step parent that they are expected to care for your child while you are at work/school/other all weekend and then in the same breath get upset with them for disciplining your child. Do not place other adults in a compromising role. If they are responsible for the primary care for your child, allow them to carry out that role (with guidelines you’ve already discussed together.) And a note to step parents: leave the major discipline to the bio parent. Thus, avoiding conflict with your spouse or the child’s other bio parent. Basic guidance and rules to be followed are fine for step parents to uphold when bio parents are not around. The point is that ALL of the adults involved need to communicate, communicate, communicate with the children’s best interest in mind.