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Boundaries In Blended Families: The Covenant Method For Building Unity And Setting Limits

The teacher who wouldn't let you touch her desk taught you to respect private property. The parent who insisted you call adults Mr. or Mrs. taught you to respect your elders. These boundaries helped you learn to to live in community. Take a look at how setting boundaries in your expanded family begins with a covenant.

Read and be encouraged!

This is the final post about step parenting for now. I hope that you have been blessed and that you got a few practical thoughts that will help navigate these complex relationships. This article is dedicated to the parent who works tirelessly and selflessly against all odds to make a happy home for the family. If this is you, I see you and love you. You are doing it well. -T.

Beginning at the beginning, I want to make it clear that covenants are not simply promises. Covenants are mentioned frequently in scripture and, as a result, many people think of covenants as religious or, perhaps, legal. God and Abraham made a covenant, and so do home owners in condominium complexes. Covenants are contractual in nature. Often there is an "if...then..." element to a covenant. In its simplest form, a covenant is an agreement between two or more parties.

The truth is, we often engage in covenant making. For that reason, we can leverage this practice and make it work to help the family learn how to live in unity. Covenant making is understandable, equitable, sensible. This makes it perfect for newly expanded families. In fact, every family can benefit from covenant building.

Especially in the early years, expectations in blended families are unclear and we make a lot of mistakes due to misunderstanding, confusion, and anxiety. Plenty of anxiety. Enter our hero the covenant: preventing misinterpretation, creating solidarity, maximizing commitment, leaping tall buildings in a single bound....etc. The covenant solution is workable. As with everything, patience is required. But you can do this.

Here are a few suggestions for areas that require a covenant in a newly expanded family. Use these as guides and tweak them for your own situation. If you follow my blog or have read my book, "Harbor Home: Create A Home Where You And Your Children Can Thrive"

you know that I place a huge emphasis on the first item on the list.

  1. Conversation Covenant. In this covenant, each party agrees to eliminate derogatory terms toward each other, accusations of bad motives, and all belittling, berating, badgering, and bullying. Example: A) We agree that negative names including, but not limited to, "psycho", "brat" "idiot" "a** h***" and any other similar word will be off limits. Offenders will agree to offer a sincere and meaningful apology which will be instantly accepted. B) We agree that the phrase "shut up!" is a soul destroying belittling phrase that shall not be acceptable in our home. Offenders will apologize, victims will accept. C) We agree that no one who is absent from a conversation will be criticized in it. In other words, absent parents of a child will be spoken of kindly and with respect. Children will likewise be offered respectful and gracious words. We do not speak ill of anyone who is a part of our family group, especially if they are absent from the home.

  2. Chores Covenant. Before this covenant is made, the adult financiers of the home (payers of the rent, mortgage, utilities, groceries, transportation, etc.) will reach an agreement concerning what level of cleanliness is to be expected on a day to day basis. Chores will be assigned on an age appropriate basis. Example: A)We agree that our home should be a comfortable and safe place for all. To that end, each member of the family will contribute by performing two home maintenance chores per day, not to exceed thirty minutes of efficiently executed chore time on a school/work day. Weekends may include up to one hour per day of efficiently executed chores. B) We agree that anyone who is able to walk can clean up any mess they themselves make. All items that are taken out and used shall be put away immediately by the one who used it. C) We agree that bathrooms are especially disgusting when left dirty. We will each wipe the sink, counter, and toilet surfaces with disposable wipes at least once per day. In addition we will wipe away toothpaste splatter from any surface on which it lands after we brush.

  3. Community Covenant. The family that plays together stays together. It is important, especially in the early years of a blended family, that you take time to have fun together. Example: A) We agree that we learn to love each other better the more we have fun together. Each member of our family will have an opportunity to take a turn, in turn, to choose a big family activity once per month and will participate in those chosen by others. B) We agree that eating together bonds a family. Each member of the family will eat at least one meal per day together with the rest of the family and will participate in positive conversation during this time. C) We agree to enjoy each other often. Each week, our family will do a small activity together that is enjoyable and everyone will participate. A game, a hike, a movie, etc. This activity will be chosen and planned by an adult taking in consideration what the children like to do.

Families all have challenges that they face. Setting yourself up for success by creating a written family covenant is a good start to ease the stress. Bear in mind that covenants are frequently adjusted to meet the changing needs of the parties involved. If something isn't working, change it. It's your covenant and your family. Keep watching and learning.

Do you see how creating a covenant is different from adults laying down the law? Do you understand how much better life is when everyone understand the expectations? Even if you have a radically bitter teen or a deeply withdrawn elementary aged child, the covenant can and should include them. They are part of your family no matter what they feel about it. Please be gracious. Please be kind. You'll be so glad you were. Make a covenant. It's better than a promise. Write it down and post it in a prominent place. After a while, habits will be set and you won't need it anymore. Loving your family is about the choices you make and actions you take. Give it all you've got.

Create your family covenant and share it here! Tell us what is working and what is not working. Ask questions and help each other out. We are all in this together and we all need fresh thoughts. Celebrate your blended family. It is a family unit that God honors and loves.

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