Statistics show that one in three Americans is either a step-child, a step-sibling, or a stepparent. That’s a lot of blended families! Those of a certain age can certainly remember The Brady Bunch, but let’s not forget that it was a fictional family. There are celebrity blended families, such as J-Lo and A-Rod, and Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz. In fact, Swizz’s ex-wife, Mashonda Tifrere, recently published a best-selling book called “Blend,” about co-parenting with her more famous counterparts.
There are many excellent resources for co-parenting with your ex, and a lot of valuable information out there about creating rules for the kids when the family dynamic changes by the addition of a new spouse with kids of his or her own. However, there seems to be a lack of information addressing the behavior of the adults.
How do parents navigate their roles when a bonus mom or dad comes into the picture? Good question. What if the bonus mom is more permissive than the biological mom? What if the bonus dad is distant from the step-children?
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the biological parents and the bonus parents could sit in the same room and create a roadmap for their own behavior? I’ve only conducted this type of meeting a handful of times, but they were extremely productive. Would you be willing to hear a few suggestions taken directly from my mediation client files?
1. Establish and maintain mutual respect (even if you have to fake it at first).
2. Work together as a family (even if you don’t live together).
3. Take turns expressing your expectations as co-parents. Be specific. Be kind.
4. Then make a list of all the common expectations, and agree to do your best to maintain them.
5. Schedule regular meetings (quarterly, maybe) to evaluate the progress. Keep the tone of these meetings positive.
6. Acknowledge and then remember that bonus parents are also part of the family dynamic. An important part.
Speaking of the family dynamic, and once all the parents, co-parents, and bonus parents are on the same page, invite the kids in for a meeting. Ask them what’s going well within their blended family, and ask them what needs improvement. Then listen to what they have to say. Take notes while they’re speaking so that they can see you’re taking their thoughts seriously. If some of the structure needs modifying, try the changes for a specific period of time, then get together with the kids to re-evaluate.
Parenting habits are hard to break, as are the strong emotions associated with your divorce. Call me a hopeless optimist (you wouldn’t be the first), but moving forward with your lives means letting go of the negative things that are holding you back. Moving forward for the benefit of your kids is a no-brainer. Not only are you making it easier on yourself for your own future, but more importantly, you’re setting an excellent example for your kids.
Are you co-parenting with your ex and his/her new spouse? How do you make it work? Please comment.