This is where the rubber meets the proverbial road in a blended family. After the initial excitement, life settles in to the routines that are part of each life: meals, laundry, dust, school, work, carpools and chores. How you manage these is how you manage your life. Read and be encouraged!
This is part two of a series for step parents. This week's topic is the one that I hear about from step parents more than all others put together. If you haven't combined households yet, please work through this issue before you do. If you are experiencing hiccups in this area, here are some techniques that could help. This week is lovingly dedicated to step children everywhere.
You come in from work and find bookbags dumped in the front doorway. They are literally six inches away from the threshold. If the house were on fire everyone would have to jump over them to escape. You sigh and move them to one side. Again. You go to the kitchen to get an evening meal started and there is an open peanut butter jar, a dirty knife, a blob of jelly and crumbs on the counter. You know that this means the crusts of a partially eaten pb&j will be on the floor or on a piece of furniture in the den.
You hear the blaring sounds of a video game coming from that room. Your heart begins to race and your face gets hot. Before you know what you are doing, you have stormed into the den demanding that whoever made the mess come clean it up. The kids look at you with amused scorn, call you a psycho and turn back to their game. You then begin ranting, while the kids look at each other and laugh. They continue to refer to you as "the psycho". Their father, your spouse, comes in after about twenty minutes of this. He takes their side.
If I had a dime for every time I have heard this scenario or a variation of it from the lips of a deeply wounded and incredibly frustrated woman I'd be able to fund the non profit of my dreams. It is a common enough experience and one that, for the sake of the children, should be worked through quickly and with genuine love.
Most blended families experience a time when expectations are unclear and everyone is trying to figure out how to be a family. However, if you are willing to put in the work, you can create a loving and happy blended family. It takes full and patient communication, and a firm, loving hand. It is not easy but it is worth it. This is your family and your life, after all. Why not have it be as full of joy and love as you can make it?
Let's rewind the previous scenario. There is another way for it to play out, and it is much easier to achieve than you may realize. The bookbags can be on a hook near the door. The peanut butter jar can be in the cabinet and the knife in the sink. Crumbs on the counter, for reasons I do not understand, are tenacious and nearly impossible to eliminate. If you have figured that one out, please email me. My husband...well, never mind.
Here are a few workable techniques that will move you toward a calmer home life for you, your spouse, your children and your step children. Step one is non negotiable and the starting point. Skipping this step makes the rest nearly impossible to achieve. Do this today.
Calmly and firmly set a time to speak privately with your spouse to set up a non negotiable list of household expectations. The most important part here is that you must listen as well as talk. You may learn that he honestly does not care that there are crumbs on the counter or undone homework or filthy towels on the floor or bookbags in the front doorway. You will have to reach a compromise concerning this type of thing. And I mean a compromise. If you like the house like a magazine and he prefers a more "lived in" look, (or vice versa) then find a few things to let go of. You may want all the children to do their homework when they get home from school, but he may consider this their responsibility to do or not to do. If his time with his children is limited he may not want to spend it on homework. Once you have decided what you can let go of and what you can't, (and you must let go of some things) write it down with him and help him to see that these items are a quality of life issue and that a happy home will include these. Give and take, but don't keep him guessing. Hold fast to the essentials, but be realistic with your expectations. You should be treated with respect, but that must be clearly defined as well. Make sure your expectations are well understood and that you understand his as well.
Once the list is set, stick to it. You are not exempt from the rules you have established. Remind yourself what you agreed to. If profanity or name calling is forbidden then you must drop it too. Be matter of fact about the family rules. In the scenario at the beginning of this article, a better response would have been to leave everything as you found it and ask their father to deal with it. If your step children are more cooperative, then mention in a friendly, off hand manner that you found a couple of things that need attention. Then set a time limit in which you would like to have it taken care of. Berating, badgering, and bullying is not an effective technique for gaining cooperation. Seriously. Neither is slamming around the kitchen complaining under your breath and scowling at everyone. These two behaviors (and other similar ones) shut down communication and build walls between you rather than building a shelter that protects you all. A calm response may be difficult, but it is healthier. Especially for you. Just sayin.
You train up your children and let him train up his. Especially at first. If you step in like a drill sergeant, you are setting yourself up for frustration. Go back to step one and make sure that every child has a biological (or legal) parent holding them to the standards of the new family. Please remember that these standards may be entirely new to children you did not raise to this point. Give them time to adjust and help them take one small step at a time.
Remember what the children have experienced to this point. Expecting too much too soon is the single biggest cause for stress that I have witnessed over the years. These are children. Even if they are teenagers, they are still children. You may think that they should know better but they are children. Children who have been hurt deeply because they watched their world fall apart. No child becomes a step child because things in their home were going so well. Every single stepchild ever has experienced trauma that has bitten them hard. They are in pain, and when they are asked to join a whole new family and turn on a dime to comply with new rules the trauma comes back painfully fresh. Be compassionate. This is not just about you.
These techniques will get you started. They are very basic. The specifics are yours to work out and you will if you really want to have a happy home with your expanded family. I have seen blended families become very close and genuinely happy together. I know it can be done, but I also know that these four steps are the only path to getting there.
Do you need an ear or want some support in your situation? Feel free to contact me through email. Next week the topic will include enforcing these boundaries and I'll give some specific suggestions about consequences that don't include yelling. Subscribe to get it directly to your inbox. You can be happier!