As I travel about the country talking to parents and day care providers questions come up often on how to gain respect and unity from a blended family. Step-dads are especially concerned because they are not sure what their new role in the life of step-children should be. Many men are also concerned about how to address the roles of "hers, mine and ours."
Family Meetings Build Cooperation
Parenting is difficult in the most ideal situations (wait a minute...I have never seen an ideal situation, have you) but can be extra stressful when old patterns and new family members merge. The most successful families I have ever met are the ones who have a regular family meeting where everyone has a chance to be heard and participate in decision making.
The tendency of many males is to assume authority and to try to solve problems immediately with their solution. In a democratic family meeting the emphasis is on planning ahead to avoid sticky situations, provide encouragement and solve problems together.
This is in contrast to an emergency meeting or knee jerk decision whenever a crisis appears. In a regular family meeting of all members of a blended family, each member is assured they will have a forum to be heard in a definite time and place each week.
Strategies for Success
- Focus on a project so no one feels they are being singled out to speak unless they are comfortable. We gathered at the kitchen table, but put out play dough or paper and markers and allowed everyone to create what ever they felt like during discussions.
- Do much more than solve problems or gripe. If someone has a complaint about another family member, it can only be shared if they have tried to work it out together and they then share at least two compliments.
- Agree on the distribution of chores and consequences for not having them done at agreed on time.
- Express positive feelings and encouragement to family members.
- Acknowledge progress of each member.
- Plan recreational outings.
- Build a team spirit for "our house."
- Share feelings and hopes for the future
If some family members decide not to attend family meetings, decisions can still be made by those that are present. We kept a communication log and rotated the role of note keeper. This comes in handy to refer back to decisions, so the step-parent doesn't have to be the bad guy.
You can build a better blended family and I have confidence in you. Children are so hungry for strong role models to teach, mentor and respect them. You are doing an important work as a dad.
Judy is a parent educator, family relationship coach, and personal historian who has written more than 20 books, hundreds of articles and speaks internationally on family issues, including end of life. Formerly a PBS-Ready to learn consultant, she still works with Head Start organizations and child care resource centers on an international basis.
Submitted by: Judy H. Wright *
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