Thursday, August 9, 2012

Dealing with the other parent of your step kids

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What do you do if the other parent of your step kids resists your best efforts to get along? Like it or not, if your spouse has children with another partner, you and the ex-spouse are linked.  While it may not always work smoothly, or even pleasantly, your step kids will always connect you and the ex-spouse in-law. A positive and cooperative relationship will benefit your step kids and your entire blended family. So, what do you do if your attempts are rejected? Keep trying!

Relationship goals to avoid
 Do you envision yourself as counselor or mediator between your partner and their ex-spouse, or between your step kids and their other parent? Please forget about helping any of them work through their issues. Immediately. No matter what you do or say, the more you try to help, the more you risk overstepping your bounds. As limiting as it sounds, communication between you and the other parent of your step kids should focus on logistics like scheduling visitation and parent-teacher appointments. Please do make an effort to make all interchanges cordial and cooperative, because that is what is in the best interests of your blended family, but beyond that, keep the relationship strictly focused on the step kids.

Rules of engagement
If talking on the telephone with your spouse’s ex (or even with your own ex-spouse) often escalates into a shouting match, develop the art of controlled exchange. If necessary, keep a note to yourself next to the phone to help keep things under control. The note might contain hints such as:
  1. Smile
  2. Use conversational voice
  3. Listen
  4. Stay on subject, use control phrases
  5. Stay cool
  6. Stay within boundaries
  7. Repeat resolution reached or arrangements made
  8. Polite good bye

You might try the following control phrases if things escalate: I am sorry you are upset. Let’s get back to the kids. I understand what you are saying. If tempers flare and they begin to shout, say something to the effect that the conversation has stopped being useful and you will have to hang up if they do not stop shouting. 

Mutual respect
Just as members of your blended family treat each other in a respectful manner, you are obligated to treat the other parent of your step kids respectfully, as well. And while you have absolutely no control over how they treat you, you do have control over your own behavior. 

As always, when parents and step parents communicate about their children, it is important to lay aside personal issues and focus on the best interests of the blended family children. As well, it is also important for you and your spouse to stay focused on each other and your own relationship, which is at the center of your blended family unit. For more information, visit The Blended and Step Family Resource Center.

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