Friday, January 27, 2012

Why did my parent have to remarry and start a blended family?

Kids can’t understand divorce or remarriage, and they surely won’t understand why one or both of their parents have created a new blended family. You just can’t ignore the fact that your kids will be thrust into a step family and have no clue how to feel or act. Here are a few points to go over and things to say to your children. This should just be seen as a jumping off point, as your comments will vary depending on the ages of your children.

The kids did not cause the divorce
Even before you discuss your new blended family, make sure your kids know that your divorce from their other parent had absolutely nothing to do with causing it. Ensure your kids that they are loved by mom and dad just as much as before the divorce, and that you will always be there for them, no matter what.

Parents need companionship from other adults
Children are great, but they can’t replace the companionship we get from other adults. Kids enjoy being with people their own age, and it’s no different for adults. As a parent, I wouldn’t ask you to stay and hang out with me when you can be having fun with your friends. This is why dad has decided to enter remarriage, which means we will create a step family. Your new step parent doesn’t know you, just like you don’t know them. Talk to each other and learn what you have in common.

Liking your new step mom doesn’t mean you are betraying your mother
There is no competition between your biological mom and your step mom. You will forever have one set of biological parents and a step mom is just extra, in a good way. Your dad will be happier and he will become a better parent. It is perfectly fine to like your new step mom, and your biological mom wants you to have fun and enjoy your time with dad and your new step parent.

Who does dad love more, me or my step mom?
He loves you both immensely, just in different ways. The love a parent has for a child is nothing like the love he has for a step parent. When you grow up and make your own family, do you want dad moving in to hang out with you? Do you want him to come to your dorm (or your room, or the mall) and hang with you and your friends? Of course not, because just like him, you want to enjoy people your own age.

With your kids going through so many changes and emotions becoming a blended family, communication is the most important thing. Adult concerns and decisions should be kept private, but kids have to be made aware of upcoming changes, and what your expectations will be. Your blended family transition can be made easier as long as communication remains open, honest and straightforward.

If you need help with your blended family, The Blended and Step Family Resource Center, founded by Shirley Cress Dudley, is ready to assist you with its counseling and coaching services. Shirley is the author of the book Blended Family Advice, as well as other informative resources aimed at promoting strong and successful blended and stepfamilies. Get in touch with a licensed professional counselor today and let us help to provide you with answers.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

How to know that you have created a successful step or blended family

Look for these signs to know that your blended family efforts have paid off:
  • You have set rules that apply to everyone. This means that house rules for your step family are always the same, even if you are tired or your spouse isn’t home. Biological kids and step kids should all be held to the same standards. Parents should follow a strict set of rules as well.
  • Dinner is filled with laughter. It is a good sign if kids and step kids are comfortable enough with each other to joke around and act silly. Keep an eye on the more introverted children in your blended family to see how they are reacting.
  • All children, whether biological or step kids, are treated equally. Your kids will be watching to see if anyone gets special treatment of any sort. They will not miss a thing!
  • Your children introduce their step mom or step dad to friends or teachers. It may seem strange, but make sure to praise your kids when this occurs. It is a true sign of acceptance when they take this step.
  • All the kids in your blended family are interacting with each other. Silence may be the most prominent noise in a blended family home, at least for awhile. Once kids get used to each other they will start to talk and interact more. Don’t thrust yourself into their conversations or activities; let them be together, without knowing a parent is listening in.
  • You have photos on the wall, featuring everyone in your step family, and you are all smiling!. This may seem like an odd one, but the truth is that a blended family normally doesn’t photograph well, at least not initially. There will be heads down, pouty faces, rabbit ears, etc. Take and put up some candid photos of them having fun. This is a good first step towards great step family photos.
  • Your kids all offer to share snacks with one another. This may seem like a minor thing, but it’s a crucial step in a blended family. It is a sign that they care about their stepsiblings and are accepting them as family members.
  • You have developed your own traditions. Each group has entered the step family with memories of past traditions and holidays. Take time to appreciate these traditions, and try to incorporate variations of them into your new traditions.
  • A visiting child expresses that hey had fun during their stay and asks when the next visit will be. Progress has truly been made when the child feels at home and looks forward to their next visit. Make certain that visiting children have a space to call their own. It doesn’t have to be a room of their own, but just somewhere to leave their belongings and feel at home.
Creating a blended family is challenging, but it is well worth it. It is quite a feat to watch two individual families become one amazing unit. Easy? No! Doable? YES!

For more ideas and advice on how to navigate your blended family towards a solid relationship, The Blended and Step Family Resource Center has resources, including licensed professional counselors who can assist with coaching and counseling services. The center is founded by Shirley Cress Dudley, who is also the author of the book Blended Family Advice, as well as other resources aimed at providing guidance and advice for blended and step families.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

How to plan for spring break in your blended family

It is time to look past winter and start planning for your spring break with your blended family. This is the best time of all, as our younger kids and step kids are off from school, and our college kids come home for spring break. There is no better time for everyone to take a much needed break from their hectic schedules and enjoy being with their step family. Here are some great tips on how to enjoy your time with your blended family.

Be fair
If the kids and step kids in your step family do not have breaks at the same time, then you may not find a way for everyone to be together at once. That is okay, as long as each child is treated equally and fairly. For example, if you take the younger kids in your blended family on a hiking trip, then you have to make time to do the same with the older kids.

Maintain balance
If you are blessed and everyone in your step family has a similar schedule, then by all means take a trip together, but just keep a balance. There is no need to spend every second with one another. Plan a few couples activities for you and your spouse, some family activities, child and parent activities, and maybe a few that are all boys and all girls.

A great idea for a blended family getaway is a cruise, which can allow everyone enough space to roam around and choose the activities that interest him or her. You can spend breakfast together and plan out the rest of your day. Try to meet back up for each meal so no one feels like they are on their own separate vacations.

The children should have a copy of each parent’s schedule, including their step mom or step dad. Most days, the kids will gravitate to the areas with games, a swimming pool, or places for them to exercise. You too can have a great spring break, and return home with some wonderful blended family memories.

Make it short
Within the first five years of creating your blended family, you probably want to avoid any cross-country expeditions. A spring break is normally a week or more, but that is not to say you need to stay away from home for that long. Allow your kids and step kids some time relaxing at home before they have to head back to school. Being in close confines with the same people for a week at a time can lead to strained relationships, especially in a step or blended family.

Stay on budget
Prepare your vacation budget before leaving, and do not deviate from it. The love in your step family is not measured by how much money you spend. Saying NO occasionally qualifies as good parenting. Giving your children every little thing they want now will lead to adults who expect the same out of life. Make sure they know in advance which activities you can afford, and which will have to wait for the next blended family vacation.

For more ideas and advice on how to manage your blended family, The Blended and Step Family Resource Center has resources, including licensed professional counselors who can assist with coaching and counseling services. The book Blended Family Advice, authored by the center’s founder, Shirley Cress Dudley, provides a wealth of information and advice aimed at helping blended families develop and become strong.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Balancing old and new traditions in a blended family

When special occasions come around in your blended family, are you excited or filled with dread? You have a new blended family of your own now, and you wonder how you can possibly maintain old extended family traditions. When those special occasions roll around, do you drag your step family along, or do you invite extended family members to celebrate the family event at your house? Here are some basic tips to help with those decisions.

Boundaries in your blended family
Your own parents may be demanding at times, but that does not mean you and your blended family must spend every special celebration with them at their home. It is important to show love to your parents, but they have to realize that your first obligations now are with your stepfamily. There is nothing wrong with setting limits with each of your parents.

No is not a dirty word
It is OK to say no to your family. If the schedule of your blended family is too busy, traveling is too expensive, or one of your kids or step kids is ill; it is perfectly acceptable to stay home. When your parents ask if you are coming home for a family celebration, remind them that you ARE home. Creating new traditions for your step family is your first priority.

Having a baby
Families have different views on handling the birth of a baby. Some see it as a private time for mom and dad, while others expect you to allow the entire family into the delivery room with video cameras. There is no right answer, and this should be decided by you and your spouse. However, in such circumstances, the blended family mom should have the final say.

Does any of this actually matter?
Of course it does! A blended family, step kids, a step mom or step dad, and possibly a new baby; this makes navigating extended family events very hard. Even though you have a new stepfamily, your own parents will still expect to spend time with you. The love you have for your parents is wonderful, but it is important to set some boundaries with them in regard to your blended family.

How can I make my parents understand this?
Thank them for the great job they did in bringing you up. Let them know that you understand all the sacrifices they made to provide you with a happy family and a loving home. You can then tell them that it is your turn now, time for you to demonstrate the great parenting skills they taught you, to use them building your new step or blended family.

It is time to make your own traditions with your blended family. Talk with your spouse to find out what made family events special in their family, and incorporate those traditions into your own family functions. You are the bosses of your blended family. Be considerate and loving, but remember your new blended family comes first.

The Blended and Step Family Resource Center offers counseling and coaching services to help blended and step families in adjusting to a new blended family setting. Founded by Shirley Cress Dudley, a licensed professional counselor (LPC) and nationally certified counselor (NCC), the center has resources including the book, Blended Family Advice, which she authored, to help blended and step families become strong and successful.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

How to plan a vacation for your blended family

Winter is dragging on, and it’s time to plan a summer vacation for your blended family. You and your new spouse have some decisions to make, and the enjoyment of your new step family is in your hands. Have you considered taking your new blended family on a driving trip across the country? Well, maybe that isn’t the best idea! Your spouse may suggest separate vacations, but that certainly isn’t the answer.

Keep it basic
Is taking a trip across the United States really that bad of an idea? Well, not necessarily. If your blended or step family was created a few years ago, the kids are young, or you own a large motor home, then it may actually be a pretty cool idea. However, if you are a newly created blended family, I wouldn’t recommend it. A trip like that would require a lot of patience in an enclosed space, which may be asking for too much that soon. I would wait at least a full year before attempting a trip like that.

Be fair
Separate vacations aren’t necessarily wrong either, but just a bit tough to pull off. When you create a blended family, the kids and step kids will be looking to see if anyone is treated differently by their step mom or step dad. It is important to maintain a sense of fairness to everyone. There are very few circumstances where separate vacations should be considered for your step family. Here are two of the rare occasions where it may be acceptable.

If the kids have widely varied ages, then their school break times could be very different. In this case, it may be acceptable to take kids on vacation in groups, at different times.
You might want to offer a vacation to an individual child, in celebration for an accomplishment of some sort. That is a nice idea but just remember that the other kids and step kids in your blended family will be expecting the same treatment.

Keep it brief
The ideal blended family vacation is a weekend getaway. However, up to four days would be acceptable. Your first excursion as a family will be a test as you get to know everyone. Close quarters for an extended period should wait until the second or third vacation.

A few possible trips are:
·         A weekend trip to the mountains
·         A weekend at a beach resort
·         A weekend in a historical city, such as Washington D.C.
·         A short cruise (three or four nights max)

Lastly, get some great pictures and video of your getaway. Have the blended family choose their favorite photo to be displayed on the wall, and the rest can go into a special family album. For more ideas and information on how to better manage your blended family, The Blended and Step Family Resource Center is ready to provide useful resources including coaching and counseling services aimed at helping blended families work.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

How to design a suitable holiday visitation schedule for your blended family

Now that school is back in session, your kids are back on a regular routine. There is no longer a need to worry about that winter schedule of visitation and those extended stays with the other parent. You can relax and enjoy your blended family, as you settle into your regular routine. Wrong!

There is no time to relax; you have to get your plans together for the upcoming holidays. We have all had it happen, especially in a step family. You sit down as Easter is approaching and realize that you have no clue what is going on. Who is staying where? Are your step kids coming for spring break? Not planning ahead leads to a disaster.

Working out the schedules
Planning a calendar will make everything easier on all members of your blended family. If remarriage has occurred for both you and your ex, then your schedule may very well impact multiple families. Your children also should know well ahead of time where they will be during which times. This will allow them to maintain a sense of stability.

Hopefully, your visitation schedule for the holidays was worked out in your divorce agreement. However, if it wasn’t, then a typical arrangement would call for one parent to have the children on the holidays during even numbered years and the other parent during odd numbered years. 

Depending on how far away your ex lives, make sure you have transportation plans in place. Will they need to travel by plane, train or car? Many airlines, as well as Amtrak, offer special accommodations for unaccompanied children, as long as they know in advance. Make sure you communicate your plans with your ex-spouse before finalizing anything.

Getting your children ready
It makes sense to set your kids up with their own visitation calendar. A centrally located calendar with each child color-coded is recommended as well. Allowing a child to know what is going on ahead of time gives them a feeling of control and stability.

If your children will be visiting a home where there is a blended family with kids or step kids who are their size and gender, it is a good idea to mark their clothing with their name or initials. It is also a good idea to make a list of exactly what you are sending them with, so they can check it off as they repack their clothing to come home. You also want to make sure they are taking clothing that actually still fits.

Vitamins and medicines
You may need specialized containers to transport prescription medication or vitamins, so check that out beforehand. Furthermore, make sure to send instructions to the other parent on how and when to administer the medicine.

If you start planning far in advance, you can be sure that the holidays go off without a hitch for everyone in your blended family. For more ideas and information on how to better manage your blended family, The Blended and Step Family Resource Center is ready to provide useful resources including coaching and counseling services aimed at helping blended families work.

Friday, January 6, 2012

The key to happiness in a blended family is reducing stress

In the year 2011, a step or blended family was reported to be the most common type of family in the United States. However, even though a stepfamily is much more common, it remains a major source of stress for the people in these homes.

When two people who have gone through a divorce decide to enter remarriage, and one or both of them bring children into the relationship, the resulting unit is called a blended family or step family. If they both bring children, then each adult must navigate the nuances of being a step mom or step dad, and this is where stress first creeps in.

Not only adults feel the stress. Everyone does. You and your spouse have gone through the ceremony and made the commitment and said the vows, but no one really feels like a family just yet. There is competition, conflict, and jealousy among the adults and children in your step family. In order to solve these problems, the adults often make a concerted effort to mollify anyone who is upset.

Disney Dads and Super Moms
Some guys will try to become what is known as a Disney Dad.  Here is a quiz to find out if you are one:
·         Are you overly nervous when your kids are coming to visit?
·         Do you try to make everything perfect for their visit?
·         Do you attempt to arrange amazing activities each time they come?
·         Do you ignore others when they come?

If you answered yes to two or more questions, then you are guilty! That is not necessarily a bad thing, but you should try to remember that not everyone is going to be happy 100 percent of the time, no matter what you do.

Women often attempt to be Super Mom, trying to please their spouse, kids, step kids, and anyone else they can. They go into overdrive trying to do all they can to make the new blended family perfect. There is only one problem with that. Perfection is an impossible goal!

Keep Things in Perspective
You are painting yourself into an impossible corner. There is no way you will please every kid in your blended family, at all times. Even if you came close, it would never be enough, and they would expect more. The bar will continue to be raised until it is grossly out of your reach.

Less Stress
The less stress there is, the happier your entire stepfamily will be. Even your spouse will never be happy all the time, but you can keep your marriage strong by setting aside some one-on-one time each day. You can work together to create fair and caring house rules for your blended family, create goals, and discuss your future.

All your kids, including step kids, want to feel like they belong.  Eat meals together, take them on errand runs, and include them in your family activities. It is important to make all the kids, whether biological or step, feel as though they have an important place in the blended family.

Your kids need structure and leadership, not a friend. This is no time to eliminate discipline and try to be their pal. They have pals. You are not a pal, you are a parent. Your kids want you to be proud of them, so give them some responsibility and something to shoot for.

Creating an even balance between couple time, parent and child time, and blended family time will leave you with far less stress each day. Life will never be perfect. It never has been and likely never will be, even with your new step family.  Concentrate on balance and structure and you will be just fine!

If you need advice with your blended family, The Blended and Step Family Resource Center exists to provide coaching and counseling services as well as information resources to help blended and step families work and become better family units. Get in touch with our licensed professional counselors today.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

How to get your blended family ready and organized for 2012

The New Year is beginning and there is no better time to get your blended family organized. You have your spouse and kids living with you full-time, and step kids who occasionally visit. Things can get confusing in the home of a blended or step family. 

A calendar for the family
A calendar is a great organizational tool for a blended family. Buy one with several spaces for each day, and then assign each child a color. This includes both biological and step kids. Start by marking all the school events for each child, including holidays, breaks, exams schedules and sporting events. This will allow you to see and plan for important upcoming events in your step family.

Next, make note of birthdays. These may include other relatives and family friends if you like. Anniversaries can be noted. The visitation schedule for the step kids should be noted. Try to plan things out as far in advance as you can. Your blended family can function much better when everyone is on the same page as far as what is happening, and when.

An individual calendar for others
Step kids who do not have daily access to your family calendar should be given a personal calendar which clearly marks their visitation schedule. All kids in a blended family will appreciate knowing when they will be with each parent. Their calendars should be much smaller, perhaps even pocket sized.

Toiletries and grocery lists
It is a good idea to post a list for the weekly grocery run. If someone in your stepfamily needs something, they must write it down. If what they need is not on the list, then they may do without for a week. This is a great way to teach your kids and step kids how to be responsible for their own needs. Every mom, dad, step mom and step dad in the world has had a child ask them at 9 pm whether they remembered to pick up the snacks for their party at school the next day, even though they never actually told you about it.

Sorting laundry in a blended family can be a headache, especially if some of your kids are the same gender or size or even age. Try to purchase different brands of clothing for each kid, and write it down somewhere. Mark each shirt with names or initials on the tags. Try to have an assigned laundry basket for each child. Once their laundry is ready, they can pick up their basket, and return it after they put their clothing away.

Finding a way to get organized at the beginning of each year can save you hundreds of headaches over the course of the year. Planning celebrations, vacations and other events is much easier when you have a calendar with all of it mapped out. This is a great way to keep your blended family organized.

For additional ideas and advice in managing your blended or stepfamily, The Blended and Step Family Resource Center is ready to assist you with its counseling and coaching services, as well as other resources aimed at promoting strong and successful blended and stepfamilies. Contact us today and let us help to provide you with answers.