I am going to break my blended family down for you, if it had a relationship status it would be “complicated.” Our blended family consists of 5 kids, 6 parents (plus bonus parents, grandparents, in-laws) and spans three states. Our “village” on the best of days, is a dense forest, with sturdy branches and healthy leaves, providing shelter and shade to all our precious “saplings”. Most times it works like an ecosystem in perfect harmony, sometimes it’s more like global warming – disastrous!
When my partner and I decided to merge our families, It was, at times, a painful transition for all. We worried about getting everyone on the same page. How do we figure out the rules and rights of our kids and put them in place? There were no perfect answers, there are no hard and fast rules to parenting. We don’t need any, we just need to do what is best for our family dynamic.
After five years in this beautifully, blended family, we’ve learned some things:
Always Put the Children First:
Rest assured that you and the other adults in your kid’s lives wont always agree. Discussions will turn into disagreements and if left unchecked those disagreements could turn ugly. Stop it! Put your own feelings aside and work to make good decisions for the kids. If you can’t do this you end up in court waiting for a judge to do it for you. You will also be subjecting your child to a lifetime of having parents that never get along. That’s horrible and sad.
If everyone wants a hand in seeing the kids grow up, everyone must put their egos aside and work together. When everyone gets along it will only benefit your kids. Good friends make great parents. Friends are honest, they remind each other what’s important. It’s always about the kids, they are THE most important thing, the only thing that matters.
Communication is everything:
If you have primary custody of your children, you are responsible for keeping everyone in the loop. It’s up to you to coordinate visitations, vacations, holidays, birthdays, school events and all the other occasions that come up. To get through it, you have to be able to communicate. In the 21st century there are so many ways to do this, there should be no excuses.
Be prepared to:
- Listen – pay attention to body language, facial expressions, verbal and non-verbal cues. All of it contributes to the conversation. Tune in without thinking about how to reply, just listen. Then, think about it and reply thoughtfully.
- Empathize – take a walk in someone else’s shoes. Through empathy, we are able to see the other side more clearly, making situations that once proved challenging much easier to resolve.
- Validate – at the end of the day people want to be understood. Be kind with your words, validate each others feelings, and always keep the lines of communication open.
Make Flexibility your Best Friend:
If you have a complicated, family dynamic flexibility will be your best friend. Sharing custody, no matter how you split it up, requires all of the flexibility you can muster. When a lot of people are involved in your kid’s life any number of things can change at any time.
In a perfect world, the rules, rights, boundaries, and schedules you put down, work, forever, and everyone plays their part without incident. Life is never that perfect though. So you’ll work to build a solid framework and someone will get sick, find a new job or decide to move to a new state. Be ready and willing to adjust when this happens. Plans change and this can be very stressful if you don’t learn to be flexible.
Be a United Front:
Kids smell weakness and they will manipulate you to get their way. We work tirelessly to set up appropriate boundaries that allow our children to safely learn and grow. They work tirelessly to push those boundaries and try to break us. Combining our household meant figuring out what rules would work and which ones were no longer relevant.
The kind of topics we covered:
- Rules of the house – bedtime, meal time, bath time, media time, appropriate discipline etc.
- Special needs – schooling, tutoring, therapies etc.
- Extra curricular activities – how many, who pays, what’s appropriate etc
- Rights of the kids – cell phone/technology/social media readiness, age appropriate behaviors etc.
Do your research, speak to specialists if necessary and come prepared for team work. If there are any issues the kids might have, address them. Be solution minded and if there are no solutions to be had then and there commit to finding one together. This might be done over dinner or it might be an ongoing process.
Once you’ve agreed on all the rules stick together to apply them across the board. This means if a child breaks the rules in one household the punishment should stand in all households. This will teach your children to respect the boundaries and ensure they wont try to manipulate one parent or guardian against the other to get their way.
In my blended family this is the foundation for “making it work” for us. Every family is different, every family has their own tips and tricks that make it work for them. What would you add to this? How do you establish the rules and rights in your home?
Tell me in the comments below.