Friday, February 24, 2012

5 golden rules for grandparents in blended families

Being part of a blended family is difficult. Sometimes teaching your parents how to accept the new blended or step family is even more difficult. These 5 golden rules for grandparents can help you ease them into their new roles, rather than assuming they will know how to respond in the newly blended family. You and your new spouse have had some time to get to know one another before deciding to blend your families; your parents will also need that time after the wedding to learn how to respond to the new stepfamily situation. These tips, or 5 golden rules, are a good starting place to open up the conversation and give them guidelines on how to behave in a blended family, particularly with their new set of step grandkids.

Rule One: Treat all children, biological or stepchildren equally and fairly
Treat your step grandkids as if they were all your biological grandchildren.  They are waiting and watching to see if you will be fair to all.  If your biological grandchildren call you grandmother- then invite your new step grandchildren to call you grandmother. If you hug your grandchildren when you see them, then hug your step grandchildren, too.

Even better, dispense with the biological and step labels as soon as you can! Keeping these labels in your head may cause you to treat your grandchildren unequally.

Rule Two: Express interest in each new step child
Make time to learn about your new step grandchildren: their activities, friends and hobbies.  Figure out what makes each child unique.  These endeavors will help you feel more comfortable around them, and help you get to know them. Also, your step grandkids may want to get to know you a little better, and this opens the door to a closer relationship. 

Rule Three: Remember special days
Acknowledge birthdays, school events, and any other special activities of your new step grandkids.  At the beginning of each year, mark all special events on the calendar.  You may even want to purchase birthday cards, or gift cards all at once.  That way, you are fair to all the grandkids and don’t forget anyone.

Don’t forget your new daughter or son in law, too.  Remembering them with a card on their birthday will help show your support for the marriage. Share information about your family history or family recipes, to help your daughter or son (by marriage) feel a part of your family.

Rule Four: Don’t reminisce about the past
Your adult child has divorced and moved on to a new marriage. Recalling the good times in their old marriage is not going to help with blending the new marriage. Take the old wedding photos off the wall and put them away in a special album. It’s okay to keep these pictures, but do not display the old marriage partners on the wall for everyone to see when they visit you.
Rule Five: Listen
When your adult child calls and wants to talk about their frustrating moments in their blended family, don’t judge or say anything negative that you’ll regret later.  It’s very difficult to blend a family and requires a lot of patience. Support your son or daughter as they try their best to be a good parent and spouse in this new blended family.

Remember: As grandparents in a blended family, it’s your job to love all of your grandkids and support your adult child and his or her spouse in the newly blended family. It may be a little new and unfamiliar at first, but well worth your efforts. You will have the reward of a bigger family to love you back.

The Blended and Step Family Resource Center aims to help step families conquer the challenges of life in a blended family setting. A successful blended family life does not happen overnight nor is it easy. By adhering to proven principles that work, it becomes attainable when applied with consistency and discipline.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Compromise with college kids key to blended family success

This time of year, college kids are returning home for spring break.  It’s a time of transition for the parents and the college-age child and this can be challenging, particularly in blended families.

Transition to home and a stepfamily after the freedom of college may be difficult
College-age kids have been on their own for several months. Although parents are still paying the bills, and college life is somewhat supervised and controlled, your kids have had a taste of independence.  The college experience gives them a safe setting to make decisions, and control their daily schedule:  what they eat, when they sleep, when they go out,  and basically, feel in charge of their daily lives. When they return home, it’s quite a shock when mom and dad want to discuss their every movement.

Compromise required by parents, step parents and college-age kids
It’s time for both parent and college-age student to compromise a bit.  Parents should understand that, although this 18-22 year old is still their child, this same young man or young woman is entering adulthood, and needs to continue to be able to make basic decisions on his or her own, in the safe and supervised environment called home. College students should realize that, although they have had quite a lot of independence throughout the school year, this time of independence has been given to them- compliments of mom and dad’s hard earned money, and supervised by the school.  As long as they are under the financial support of mom and dad, these students need to remember that they are not truly independent or living as functional adults.

Once your college-age kids are able to respect the authority of the parents, and the parents are willing to give the student an expanded level of independence, life is easier for both.

For college-age kids, change to blended family is complicated
These steps are somewhat difficult in a nuclear family, but become even more complicated in the blended or step family. The college-aged child returns home to a blended family and sometimes wonders where his home really is.  Mom has remarried, and moved to a new house. Things look new and different. 

Dad has remarried too, and moved to a new house with his new wife and her kids so his house feels even more unfamiliar. College kids yearn for the dream of mom and dad getting back together, and everyone being united again. Some kids will keep these hopes and dreams years after their parents remarry.

If mom and dad have remarried and there is no chance of reconciliation, the student needs a gentle reminder that life has changed.  Guiding your children through changes and challenges in life will help them mature and learn how to handle struggles and changes as they become adults.

Remember that your student has not been with you, everyday, as you have moved forward into another relatonship or marriage. Give students some extra space.  Allow them to float between mom and dad’s home, as long as both parents know where the student is. 

Some students may choose to travel over the summer, since the home base is not as comforting as it used to be. Travel should not be seen as a negative.  Travel can open your student’s eyes to the world, help expand their independence and survival skills, and present a more cosmopolitan person when interviewing for a job.  Travel could be part of an intern program, mission trip, study abroad summer program, or even a school supervised travel experience.

Sometimes, there is no room for compromise, and that is okay
Although I have discussed several areas of compromise, there are a few expectations that should not change: If the parents are still paying the bills,  children, of all ages (yes- even over 18,) should respect the adults in the home and also obey their requests. Some of these requests may be:  letting parents know if you won’t be home for dinner, keeping your area clean, and participating as a family member (not a guest) and help to keep the home clean.

Family is important, blended, step or nuclear
Whether blended, step or nuclear family, the adults in these homes love their children and step children. It doesn’t hurt to continue to remind your college-aged student of this fact as they return home to a now unfamiliar world.  Remember when you were their age; it’s difficult, not a child and yet not quite an adult.  Love them, provide opportunities for independence, and stand close by to catch them if needed.

For more information and advice on how to better organize and manage your blended family, The Blended and Step Family Resource Center has resources, including informative articles and counseling and coaching services, all aimed at promoting strong and successful blended and stepfamilies.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Blended family organization makes house run smoothly

It’s a brand new year, and if last year’s activities left you breathless and confused, maybe it’s a good time to start the year fresh with some blended family organization You may have a spouse, kids who live in your house, and step kids who visit, and other relatives who visit occasionally.  It can get pretty complicated in blended and stepfamilies homes when juggling a variety of schedules and needs. Blended family organization can help clean up the confusion and keep everyone’s life neat and organized.

Family calendar keeps everyone on schedule
Blended family organization means knowing when events are happening for each member of the family, keeping track of visitation schedules, as well as doctor appointments, dental cleanings, and many other necessary appointments. A family calendar can be a wonderful tool for keeping track of your busy stepfamily.

Purchase a calendar with several lines under each day.  Assign a different color marker to each child.  (This includes biological kids living in the house and step kids that visit.)  One idea is to assign colors based on school colors, especially with older step kids who are in college, or younger kids in different schools.

School schedules are usually the busiest to keep track of in blended families. Print out school schedules and mark each child’s individual school holidays, spring break, exam schedules, sporting events, and any other events you are aware of at this time.  Being able to see the different school schedules, especially upcoming spring breaks, will allow you to start making plans for your various children’s time off.

Don’t forget to keep track of special events of every member of your blended family. Go through the calendar and mark everyone’s birthday.  This includes children, parents, and any other relatives you want to honor on their birthday.  Anniversaries or other special events can also be marked at this time.

Record visitation schedules.  It’s best to plan as far in advance. Usually, separation agreements or divorce settlements will detail visitation, but these dates may be up for discussion and there is not time like now to get those dates cemented and on the family calendar.

Individual Calendars
All children like to know what to expect and giving children who don’t have access to the family calendar their own individual calendar with visitation schedules clearly marked let’s them know they are a part of the blended family plan. All ages, from younger kids to teenagers, want to know which weekend they will be spending at mom’s, and which weekends at dad’s house- so they can make plans.  Make sure these calendars are pocket sized- small enough to carry in a purse or wallet.
Weekly Calendar
Not everyone needs a weekly calendar, but if you have a particularly busy stepfamily, it could make your life much easier. Each weekend, print a calendar for the next week.  The weekly calendar helps make sure no one is left at school after a late practice, and you don’t miss any of your kid’s special events. Including the meals for each night, and how many will be eating, is great for organizing the grocery list, and managing your kid’s meal expectations.

Grocery/Toiletries List
If you find yourself making 20 trips a week to the grocery store or pharmacy, it may be time to add weekly grocery and toiletry lists to your blended family organization. Making everyone in the family responsible for recording their own items will help take the burden off of one person’s shoulders. If it’s not on the list, the offender will have to wait until next week. It may seem tough, but this will teach your children to plan ahead and be responsible for school assignments and their personal toiletries. Blended family organization teaches individual responsibility.

Do you have trouble sorting the clothes when you have biological kids and step kids of the same ages/sizes/gender in the house? Here are some tips for keeping track of laundry items: Purchase different brands of clothes for different kids. For instance, purchase only one brand of sports socks for your son. When you step son visits, and you wash his socks- his socks are the ones that are different brand; mark all shirts on the back tag with their first initial; and use separate laundry baskets for each child. When their laundry is finished, each child can pick up their basket and put their clothes away. If they forget, and wonder where their clothes are- send them to the laundry room!

Chore chart
Blended family organization means getting biological kids and step kids on board with keeping with the house neat and clean. Assign chores for all kids, those who live in the house fulltime, and those who visit. For younger children- a chore chart makes it easier for them to remember their assigned chores.  Even visiting children want to feel part of the stepfamily. Assign chores such as washing the dishes, or setting the table to the child that is visiting for the weekend, spring break, or longer summer visits. If a visit is longer than a weekend, each child should be given more chores. No blended family member should be treated as a visitor.

Blended family organization at the beginning of the year will save you hours of time later on in the year. Planning vacations, birthday celebrations and other special events are easier when the calendar is clearly marked. Every child in your stepfamily, whether living their full time or visits feels a part of the family when they see their school schedule, birthday and other special events marked on the family calendar. It’s already February, but it’s never too late to get going with blended family organization so you can enjoy your wonderful stepfamily the rest of the year!

The Blended and Step Family Resource Center aims to assist your blended family with our counseling and coaching services. We also have resources, including articles, newsletters, and licensed professional counselors, to help you manage the different issues that typical blended families have to deal with, and more. Contact us today and let us know how we can help.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Blended family discipline

When your kids have gone through the separation of their parents, a divorce, and then a new marriage, you may think of giving the kids a break and loosening up on discipline. After all, they’ve been through enough, right? Yes, they have, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have the same values, boundaries and guidelines as before. In fact, even more than ever, it is important during times of family transitions when lots of things around them are changing, that children are given the consistency and security that comes from discipline. Discipline in a blended family is essential for a successful and positive stepfamily environment.

How do we handle our step kids?
You and your new spouse should discuss house rules and standards for your new home.  Discipline should be considered fair to both adults.  It’s important to respect the biological parent’s history of parenting, but still come to a mutual understanding of how all children will be treated and disciplined in your home.  It’s time for the two of you to discuss boundaries and guidelines for your kids, and for your home.

All kids treated equally
All kids should be treated fairly and equally.  After you and your spouse create house rules such as no eating in the living room, no T.V. after 9pm on a school night, and everyone helps clean up the kitchen after meals, it is important they are followed up with actions.

Also, these rules will apply to every child in your family. Consequences can be different, based on age differences and developmental stage, but consequences still need to be equal and fair, whether it’s a biological child or step child. It also helps if the adults follow the same rules. It’s hard to explain why Dad is eating in the living room, and no one else can!

Biological parent takes the lead
The biological parent should always take the lead with biological kids, in front of the kids. The new stepparent should not be perceived as the only who makes or enforces the rules.  Allow your spouse time to get to know the new step kids, and the biological parent can enforce the consequences of disobeying the family rules.

Also, be consistent! If you make a rule, keep it, everyday. Don’t change the rules on the days you are tired, or the days your spouse is out of the house or out of town.

No secret alliances with your biological kids
If you change the rules when your spouse is not home, this causes your children to not respect their stepparent, and believe that the bond between you and them is stronger than the bond between the parents.  Your relationship with your spouse should take priority.  Keeping your relationship strong with your spouse provides a stable and consistent environment for your children.  The stability and consistency that accompanies blended family discipline will create feelings of security for your children and move your blended family into becoming a strong, successful united 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.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Creating stepfamily balance means setting boundaries

Your spouse is angry, the kids are fighting, crying, or both, and you haven’t gone to the gym in two weeks!  Your blended family has descended into chaos and you desperately need help creating step family balance. Don’t worry. There are steps you can take to get your marriage, family and self back into shape, creating stepfamily balance that will last a lifetime.

Find time for yourself. 
If you keep running and running, making sure that everyone in your stepfamily is happy, and you forget yourself, you are going to burn out.  Stop and think about this, when are the days that you lose your temper and yell, or burst into tear, or basically can’t parent or be a loving spouse?  Those are the days you’ve forgotten to take care of yourself! You don’t have time to skip relaxing. Figure out what makes you calm and make room for these activities in your day, and you will be on your way to creating stepfamily balance.

Making time for spouse important to creating balance in stepfamilies
I’m sure you didn’t remarry because it was always your goal in life to be a stepparent, to parent another person’s child and be responsible for this child without all the authority. You entered this marriage because you love your mate and saw a second chance to have a great marriage.

If you want a great marriage, then you need to spend time with your spouse. Your marriage should be in the center of the family, not the kids or stepkids. The two of you should connect daily, and plan at least a couple of times a month to get away from the kids and just enjoy life together. It doesn’t have to be an expensive, out of town vacation, it can be a quiet dinner, looking into your love’s eyes and just listening to them talk.  What is important is that you are continuing to get to know your mate, pay attention to his or her interests, and be an active part in their lives. Creating stepfamily balance means including the needs of the marriage.

Let’s talk about parent/child time and blended family time
Balance your family time. Biological parents should have some dedicated time, at least once a week (or at least once a visit) with their kids. This doesn’t have to be over-the-top theme park quality time. Kids can accompany parents to the hardware store, the grocery store or other errands.  Stopping to get a soda or ice cream on the way home makes it even more special, but the real focus is that the parent is giving the child one-on-one time.

How do you know if you’re out of balance? If your spouse gets upset whenever the kids visit and says she’s being ignored then you’re out of balance. If your spouse says he never has any couple time with you anymore, then you are out of balance.

Remember, the most important thing in a blended family is to create balance with your time.  Dedicated parent/child time is great and a necessary part of a healthy family, but should never be the primary focus of any child’s visit. When the whole family comes together, your entire blended family is now more capable of accepting their stepsiblings and positively responding to family events. Your family is important, and creating a healthy balance means dedicating time to yourself, your spouse, parent and child time, and blended family time.  It isn’t easy.  There will be days in which you don’t get any significant time to yourself. But taking these steps will pave the way to creating blended family balance, and make everyone happier and more emotionally healthy in the end. 

The Blended and Step Family Resource Center aims to assist your blended family with our counseling and coaching services. We also have resources, including the book Blended Family Advice, to help you manage the different issues that typical blended families have to deal with, and more. Contact us today and let us know how we can help.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Beat winter blues and enjoy blended family bonding time!

When the weather is cold, sometimes you’re stuck in the house with nothing to do. Wait a minute. Don’t you have some work to do on blending your stepfamily? Winter is the perfect time for blended families to get to know each other better by doing things together. So, when old man winter blows into your area, get out the board games, plan some projects and get down to some blended family bonding!

Plan a few family projects
It’s time to clean out the attic, garage or guest bedroom, and jump-start spring-cleaning with blended family bonding. Assign stepfamily members different tasks, but make sure they are still working as a team. You can even take the opportunity to get their bedrooms cleaned out.  Give one child a garbage bag for donations to charity, and a second child a garbage bag for trash.  After the room is picked up, assign the same team to dust and vacuum the room. When one project is completed stepparents and stepkids can celebrate together by having a special meal, or going out to eat a special treat.

Provide fun opportunities for stepsiblings to connect
Have available board games, the Wii, PSIII or XBox stocked with games, or even a set of checkers or puzzle left out on the table, and you are on way to blended family bonding.  As much as teenagers love technology, a checkers tournament can also be a blast. As long as the mood is kept light, stepsiblings may try to figure out one another’s strategies or maybe even team up together to figure out a winning stepparent’s or bio parent’s strategies, so one of them can win!

Leaving out a challenging winter puzzle for several weeks offers a chance for stepparents or stepsiblings to help one another solve the puzzle. Hardly anyone can walk past a puzzle without trying out a few pieces. Take advantage of those moments when stepchildren are pondering over pieces to join them, working with them to achieve success.

When the kids are busy doing things, whether fun or work, they are getting to know each other, and bonding as a family.  It sometimes happens naturally, but as a parent in a stepfamily, providing multiple opportunities to connect will make blended family bonding easier and happen faster.

Begin planning for summer trips
I know it’s the middle of winter, but it’s time to start introducing the idea of traveling together as a blended family, and this is another opportunity for important blended family bonding.  Bring home brochures from travel agencies, and guidebooks from the library.  Find out what locations your biological kids and stepkids are interested in visiting.  Start talking about types of trips:  do you have an active family that would enjoy backpacking and hiking for a week?  Or, is your blended family the type that would love an all-inclusive resort, with comfortable beds and air conditioning?  There are also economical cruises that offer nonstop activities for your blended family.

Remember, the adults make the final decisions, but it’s great to get input from your blended family members to reinforce your unique bond and make your time together an opportunity for blended family bonding.  Stepsiblings will discover that they have more in common with each other, as they voice their likes and dislikes for various types of trips.  Once you have an idea of what interests them (and what doesn’t interest them) it’s time to do research and figure out what works for your families schedule and budget. 

Remember, spending more money doesn’t mean you’ll have a more wonderful time, or even that you love your children more. Children value the time you spend with them, not the money.  You goal is to create memories for them, memories of time spent with parents who love them and stepsiblings who are now a part of their blended family. Blended family bonding is easy when parents and stepparents remember that part of becoming a family is to have a little fun on the way!

The Blended and Step Family Resource Center has many resources to help blended and step families work and succeed. The book, Blended Family Advice, written by the center’s founder and director, Shirley Cress Dudley, is a very useful tool for helping blended families find their way to becoming strong social units for growth and development.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

How to plan your summer blended family visitation schedule

The days are getting longer, and spring is fast approaching. For your blended family, it's time to start planning your summer visitation schedule. To make summer visitations more enjoyable for everyone, here are pieces of useful advice to remember:

Be fair to everyone involved
Don’t force the kids into any decisions. They need to love and spend time with each parent. Visitation schedules should allow the children to spend as much time with the non-custodial parent as they desire.

Don’t make it a competition
Your kids and step kids will never turn down an expensive gift or vacation, but giving them these things isn’t a demonstration of love. The important part is that they desire to spend time with each parent and that feel like an important member of the step family. Check your local newspaper for inexpensive area events. Your children may have just as much (or more) fun during activities like this than they would at an expensive beach resort. It is all about true “quality” time.

Keep yourself organized
Only change your scheduled agreement in the event of an emergency. When a potential schedule change does arise, it’s important that your blended family respect any other family or step family that may be affected. Vacations and such will require planning, and hence can’t be decided at the last minute. You have gone through divorce and entered remarriage, and if your spouse has remarried as well, and their new spouse has children with their ex; well, you can see what I mean about affecting multiple families.

Make sure your children are prepared
This is especially important if your children haven’t visited their non-custodial parent much during the year. They are bound to have concerns and fears, and you should talk to them until they feel comfortable. Let them know that their other parent is extremely excited to be spending some time with them. If the child is a bit younger, send them with a favorite book or stuffed animal, for comfort purposes. Once they are there, maintain contact to see how they are doing, but don’t be overly intrusive.

Make sure they have the essentials
Be sure they have any necessary prescriptions with them, along with instructions for the other parent. You also want to make sure they try on any summer clothes you are sending with them; especially if it’s things they haven’t worn in awhile. Finding out their clothes no longer fit is something you want to discover before they leave!

Remain positive
Don’t make it hard on the kids. Tell them you will miss them, but let them know that you will be busy while they are away. Make sure they know that it’s alright to have fun with their other parent. These visit times are put in place for a reason; to make sure kids retain a healthy relationship with both parents even of they part of a 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. The book Blended Family Advice, written by the center’s founder Shirley Cress Dudley, is an extremely useful resource material guaranteed to help blended families improve their relationship in a blended family setting.