“So … I’m going to need to wear those pants of yours tomorrow.”
“Um, that doesn’t sound like asking,” her dad interjects.
I’m just sitting there, as my stepdaughter and I continue to figure out this whole stepparenting thing. I want to be her cool BFF that she feels comfortable sharing things with … even if that means she shares my closet. I don’t want to correct her when she’s wrong. I’m afraid to speak up, even when I’m frustrated when I have to go hunt my things down in her room (and while I do so I hear my own mother’s voice, “Amanda-Lee, I don’t care if you use my stuff but PUT. IT. BACK!”) Or, as I step in and see the mess strewn about, I shake it off and find what I need while moving about my day.
But … my boys have made it clear that they see what is going on. They see how hard I am on them. I correct them in a second, I expect a clean room before they leave each morning, and they are expected to do what I ask without delay. I am two different moms in my newly blended family.
I recently took my boys away for a fun weekend, just the three of us. My husband and I have both felt the strain of how to stepparent. We’ve talked about how hard it is, and where the line is. Can he really be dad? Can I really be mom?
On our trip, we were having dinner and I decided to broach the topic with my boys. It was just us; no one else listening. I knew this was important so they could be honest. They may be a pain in the tail, and they may say, “She’s the favorite,” but deep down, they don’t want to hurt their stepdad or their stepsister.
As we began to talk, I started by explaining the situation that we are in, and how blended families, a term they have only just learned, can be really hard as we all figure out our role and how to interact. I further explained that I wanted them to talk to me when they felt things were unfair or confusing so we could try to fix them. Together.
This led to an open discussion and each boy took turns pointing out things that were important to them. Then we shifted the conversation to their stepdad and stepsister, and talked about how they may feel. We talked about their unique situations and reminded them that this blended family thing is two-sided. We walked out of there with some good conversation and some new perspective.
An Approach Tailored to Each Family Member
A few days later, as I sat and pondered how best to run our house so that everyone bears equal responsibility, I put a plan into action. My typical “everyone pitch in on the weekend” approach just wasn’t going to cut it. Someone was always gone and got out of the work so we needed a new tactic.
I typed up a list of expected chores and how I expect each chore to be done. I then gave everyone a different chore day that accommodated their unique schedules. Up it went to the back of each kid’s door when they were at school to find when they got home.
At dinner, I asked if they had seen their surprise waiting on their door. I then explained the “why” behind it, and then … silence. NO ONE COMPLAINED! My step-daughter even chimed in, “Yup, and I even did the first one” (she even smiled as she said it!)
Blending Means Working Together
By listening to the boys concerns and having that talk, I was able to come up with a solution to the problem that accommodated each kid’s unique needs and schedule. The boys felt understood and validated. My husband’s and my frustration was addressed. My stepdaughter was given clear expectations. That line we questioned? It was drawn.
I certainly don’t have all the answers to this whole stepparent gig. I’m figuring it out day by day. But I know this, we have to listen to our kids. They can’t rise to the challenge if they don’t have clear expectations. They won’t follow through if they think others are getting by without. My husband and I can’t just sit and watch and be frustrated. Blending means that we have to work together. It’s not two sets of rules and expectations for each half of the family. Instead, we blend and become a solid unit that respects one another. That is how love continues to grow within a new family unit.
5 Tips for Adapting In a Blended Family
Tip #1: Don’t be two different parents in your household. Hard as it may be, you have to be fair and consistent to all children.
Tip #2: Don’t assume expectations are known. Just like we have no problem telling our spouse that you hate his socks on the floor…we have to be just as clear with all the kids in the house.
Tip #3: Think of the other half of your family. Who made the biggest concessions? The biggest move? Most of the time, one family moved into the other’s “turf.” Do they feel like it is their home, too? Make an effort to make them feel included and at-home, and give them time to adjust.
Tip #4: Communicate. I know, I know. But it is true. Talk to your partner about what you need for harmony in your house. Then, after you’ve made that list, consider what you can both give up. Is your entire list really necessary?
Tip #5: Focus on love. Adjusting is hard. Sometimes, throw the rulebook out of the window and just go have fun together. After all, that is what brought you together in the first place. Don’t ever forget that.
For more tips on learning how to adapt in a new family situation, check out this podcast episode: How to Thrive as a Blended Family With Dr. Zoe Shaw – 131!