Raising children in a blended family comes with many obstacles. Many times parents know raising two sets of children with two different backgrounds, experiences, and sets of rules will be complicated. Yet the prize of watching, over time, their two micro-families blend into one, is worth the effort. They accept the challenge.
Then reality sets in. Too many kids with too many personalities and too many arguments. Parents lose sight of the prize. They begin to bicker themselves. They take sides. Suddenly, as my husband likes to say, the inmates are running the asylum.
So why is it important for parents and stepparents to present a united front? And how can they make it happen?
Why Should Parents Present a United Front?
Parents Are Outnumbered. Remember The Brady Bunch? His, Mine, and Ours? Blended families generally come with more kids than parents. Yet the kids need to remember it is the parents’ qualifications, not the children’s quantity, that matter.
Kids Smell Fear. When I trained for a marathon a certain neighbor dog always ran out of its backyard and chased me down the street barking and showing its fangs. Then, just as quickly, it turned around and ran home. This dog was great for my sprint work, terrible for my fear response. This dog knew I feared him. He saw it in my eyes, in the way I sped up, and in how I constantly looked over my shoulder. He knew that he was in control. And he liked it.
Our kids are just like this dog. When their parents divorce and remarry everything is out of their control. Except their behavior. If they sense we are frustrated, nervous, or scared, they will pounce on us like that rabid dog who chased me down the street. Don’t let them smell your fear. Stay in control by presenting a united front.
Parents Hit the Wall. Most runners, and parents, experience extreme fatigue—or “hit the wall”—at some point. We are tired of running the race. We don’t want to discipline anymore. We don’t care who started the fight. We don’t want to hear any more tattling. We can’t run. One. More. Step.
Except that we must. We signed up for this parenting gig. The little people are counting on us. We must continue running. So we rely on our partner for support. We pray our way through the tough times, knowing those times will pass. As Paul writes, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Phil 4:13, ESV) And we focus on the “How’s” of presenting a united front.
How Can Parents Present a United Front?
Establish Boundaries Before You Need Them. Parents, this takes forethought. Your oldest child will be your guinea pig; your youngest child the beneficiary of all the rules set in place. Try to establish as many guidelines as possible, not to be dogmatic, but so everyone knows what to expect.
Let the Bio Parent Take the Lead In Discipline. Both parents should remain present during times of correction and discipline. Yet as I mentioned in week two the bio parent should serve the main spokesperson.
If the discussion gets too heated, the stepparent might graciously leave for a few minutes. This gives the bio parent time to help the child calm down and sort out his feelings. This is not backing down. This is giving space.
Balance Discipline With Fun. Too many times parents want order and discipline with blended families and they forget about the fun. Schedule family fun nights as well as one-on-one time with your bio kids and stepkids. Correction and discipline will be much more effective if a relationship of trust and love is already established.