Dear Jenny Jackson,
We’ve been a blended family for the last three years and have been finding it way harder than we thought it would be. We have my eight and 10 year old, and my husband’s 11 and 12 year old children. My kids have alternate weekends with their dad, and my husband’s have weekends with their mum.
My husband and I have very different ways of parenting. He thinks I’m too tough and I think he’s too easy-going. We find it difficult to agree on what rules are important and so we give up and the kids get away with a lot. We’ve ended up doing a lot for our kids because it’s just easier. We both realise this isn’t ideal – in fact it’s causing stress between us. How do we get out of this hole we’ve gotten into?
Some of Jenny’s tips:
I want to reassure you that you’re not alone. It is tricky blending families, you’re quite right, but I’ve got some ideas that will help. The best way to agree on some new rules is to call a family meeting. Tell the kids ahead of time what it will be all about and ask them to come up with some ideas. Before the meeting, have a ‘directors’ meeting’ – just you and your husband, and make a list of jobs and rules that you agree are the basics. Keep these rules simple – they will be a good starting point when you meet with the kids.
Next, write an agenda for the family meeting and stick it on the fridge so everyone knows what’s going to be covered – no surprises. Let them know there will be dessert or a game/outing after the meeting.
Agree on some rules and guidelines for the meeting. For example, only one person is allowed to talk at a time. Decide who’s going to write the decisions down and when the meeting will finish.
Explain that when you combined families you each brought with you different rules and expectations. So of course it’s been difficult to keep things running smoothly without figuring out a new set of rules for this new family. As a family, brainstorm which rules you think you still need. Less is more at this point – don’t have too many. Let them know you’ll try out the new rules for, say, a month and then you’ll get together and review how it’s working and whether anything needs tweaking.
By now your kids will have gotten used to you both, so clarify that both of you will be following through on the rules and any consequences. I’ve noticed some blended families get stuck with the biological parents dealing with their own kids and having no power or role with the ‘steps’. It’s useful to agree in front of the kids that you’ll both be doing the parenting now. Then finish the meeting and go have some fun. Anything you didn’t get to can go on an agenda for another meeting.
Be really diligent at ‘catching the kids being good’ – let them know you appreciate their efforts. It’s the best incentive to get kids helping out and feeling good about it.
A word about ‘directors’ meetings’ – this a great way of keeping parenting issues out of your couple time. Do this as regularly as you need to but stick to a time limit. Keeping your couple relationship strong and healthy is one of the best things you can do for your kids. If the two of you are at ease and kind to each other, the kids will feel like all is well in their world.
It was so reassuring that others have these problems too! We really thought there was something wrong with us. We loved your point about being clear with the kids that we will both be following rules and consequences because we realised we had been soft-pedalling with each other’s kids and getting resentful about it actually.
We had a family meeting and did manage to agree on some rules. The kids aren’t always willing to stick to them, but we just point to the list on the fridge and stand our ground. There have been a few early nights for surly kids, but so far not too bad!
What we really loved was your idea about ‘directors’ meetings’. This has helped hugely and it’s reminded us that parenting stuff shouldn’t completely take over our lives. This has definitely taken some stress off our couple relationship. Thank you, thank you – we feel like we might just be able to do this after all.