United You Stand

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

parenting togetherWhen there is more than one person caring for a child there are bound to be disagreements. It can come down to personal preference or may actually be differing values based on how your were raised. But the disagreement itself is rarely the problem; it is how that disagreement is dealt with.

Communication is key when raising a child, and can perhaps be even more crucial when in a blended family. When Dave and I first married, Kira was norotrious for asking first me, then her dad about doing something and then taking whichever answer she liked best. It left us wondering what happened, and often frustrated with each other because we each thought the other had undermined our authority. Yeah, Kira was a sneaky one, but it taught us a lot about having a united front.

We started to realize that we had to talk to each other when the question was asked. We would tell each other, Kira just asked me about going to the park, but I said no because she hasn’t finished her homework. Then, when she went to the other parent to ask the same question, she’d get the same answer – and we were able to address with her the innapropriateness of trying to pull a fast one by being so sneaky.

Before we worked out the need to have such open communication, we would end up frustrated with each other in front of the kids. The disagreements only fueled the motivation of the kids to take advantage. They weren’t being bad; they were just being kids. It wasn’t their fault; it was our need to improve. We learned quickly how unpleasant it is to have your opinion undermined in front of a child, even if the other person does have a point. It doesn’t encourage respect and breeds dissatisfaction in relationships.

Dave and I learned to talk about our disagreements about discipline in private. It gave us time to listen to and respect what the other was saying without an audience. We could work out differences and come to a consensus and feel good about it, while also demonstrating to our kids that we were a team.

It didn’t take long for Kira to realize her approach would no longer work, and it forced Dave and I to confront and overcome some of the differences in our parenting styles. As we realized that we were both operating from a place of love and concern, disagreements about what to let the kids do or what kind of house rules we would have became minimal.

Adjusting to Life in a Blended Family

Probably one of the more notable challenges of living in a blended family is adjusting to the various lifestyles and attitudes each of us bring to the newly formed group. The kids were old enough, when their biological mother left, to remember some differences between her style (everything from clothing to discipline to attitude) and mine. Dave had been a single dad for almost two years and was very independent about everything.  His kids had been, from my perspective, somewhat coddled in the inevitable guilt that follows divorce.

While our differences were probably what made our relationship and marriage so much more successful than the first marriages we each had ended, it also challenged us (and continues to challenge us occasionally, even as the kids are now adults) to some degree particularly with how to handle child-rearing and parenting issues.

This is an excerpt from Shadra’ s book, Stories From a StepMom, available on Amazon Kindle. Read more or request a review copy.


Avoiding the Holiday Custody Tug of War

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

I was in the store the other day and they’re already clearancing costumes and preparing to put out Christmas trees and ornaments. It’s September, but if you’re a blended family, that can simply mean the stress season is about to begin. The holidays are all about spending time with family and continuing traditions. However, just because the holidays remain the same each year does not mean that the family does. It can be incredibly stressful for everyone involved deciding when, where, and how holiday festivities are going to take place, especially after divorce. It can be a very difficult time for kids in blended families, and a balance must be struck. The last thing you want for your kids is for them to feel like they are being cut up and passed around like the Christmas ham.

We all want the perfect holiday for our family but you must keep in mind that the ex-spouse most likely feels the same way. Fighting is not productive and all it will do is frustrate your kids and sour their memories of the holidays. It is imperative that all of the adults involved set aside their wants and needs and find out what it is that your kids wants out of their holiday. It is ok to let your kids know your desire to spend some time with them, but you can also show them that you understand their need to spend time with other people they love. As hard as it may be to share parts of your family, your support will make matters easier for everyone involved.

Just because the family is not the same entity as it was does not mean the traditions are not still important to your kids. Let them celebrate in a way that makes them happy, because your children’s happiness is what is most important. Uneasy feelings might surface if it was a tradition that reflects a family that is no longer together, but there is no harm in it. It may be something your kids find comfort in, and your support could mean more to them than you could ever possibly know.

Once you have mapped out what your kids want for the holidays it is time to begin the negotiations with the ex-spouse to make those accommodations work. It is your job as the adults to keep clear and unbiased opinions of the situation. If the ex-spouse is unwilling to compromise you must continue to do whatever you can to make it an enjoyable holiday. Threatening custody rights is not going to make the matters any better. Communicate with your kids to assure them that you are doing everything in your power concerning their best interests. Hopefully everyone can work together to come up with a game plan that satisfies the holiday needs of all who are involved.

Being a stepparent during the holidays is not an easy feat either. Now you have multiple families vying for the children’s attention and as a stepparent you need to be flexible and understanding. Also keep in mind that family is not tied together with DNA. Each child, no matter who’s they are specifically, should be treated equally.

The holidays are not always easy. If you want the best holiday for your family that you can possibly give, you need to be willing to compromise.

4 Steps to Resolving Issues in a Blended Family

by Shadra Bruce

Building a successful blended family can be a very difficult process for everyone involved.  I often suggest that stepparents need to talk to their spouses – that open communication is the best path to resolution – as often as possible.  However, when you are talking to your spouse about his or her children, some approaches work better than others do.

In talking to biological parents who have remarried, one of the most difficult problems they have is when their spouse has a problem with their child and, rather than focus on the problem, attempt to make it personal.  You love your spouse.  He loves you, but he loves his children, too, so when you attack them, he will defend them.

Stepchildren young and old are coping with a new situation involving a parent, and may not necessarily be on their best behavior, but taking their behavior personally can be very damaging to your marriage and your ability to have an eventual relationship with the child.  When there are problems, you need to approach your spouse with an open heart and an open mind.  These tips will help you navigate conversations about the kids:

  1. No matter how angry you are about something that has happened, don’t speak in absolutes: your stepchild is not “always” bad or will “never” behave.  When you speak of your stepchild this way, your spouse will become defensive and not listen to the real issue.
  2. Understand that children, right or wrong, will try to soothe their insecurities in any way they can, especially if they have experienced a volatile divorce, death, or separation from the other parent.  They will see you as a threat.  This is normal behavior on their part.
  3. When you talk to your spouse about an issue with your stepchild, focus on the issue, not the child.  Speak about how it affects you: “When Johnny tells me he doesn’t have to do what I say, and you don’t correct him, it undermines my authority and makes me feel like I am not part of the family” works better than, “You let Johnny get away with murder all the time!”
  4. Pick a time to talk to your spouse when you are not angry or upset.  Think about what you want to say first.  Make sure you know why you are upset, because sometimes we stepparents are still working through our own insecurities and see the kids as a threat, too – and that’s something we need to resolve within ourselves.

You and your spouse can work through many of the issues you have with building your new family structure, but it takes time, patience, and love.

Have you read Shadra’ s book, Stories From a StepMom, available on Amazon Kindle? Read more or request a review copy.