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…
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”.
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.