Making A Blended Family Work: Part Three

This is the third part in a short series of articles detailing a transition from the dreaded step-mom to love-mom.

How does a step-mom keep her husband involved in parenting?

You and your husband became partners in marriage when you took your marriage vows. It is very important that you become partners in parenting also. You cannot do this without constant communication about the children.

Before you even marry, you should sit down and discuss parenting. What are the rules of the house regarding: bedtimes, homework, chores, sports, staying overnight with friends, having company, allowances, hanging out and dating for teens, cell phones, computer and video games, social networking sites, etc.? What are you going to do to enforce these rules? Who is to be the primary enforcer?

Your husband needs to know that he cannot simply turn the children over to you. He must maintain his role as man of the house and father to his children. Tell him that you are more than happy to be the step-mother, but you will not take full responsibility. It must be a shared responsibility.

You will both make mistakes, but the most important thing to remember is to be consistent and back each other up. If you make a decision that he does not agree with, he should back you up in front of the child, discuss it with you in private and give you the opportunity to reverse the decision yourself instead of “going over your head” to tell the child that you were wrong. This will let the children know that you have the authority to make decisions. It will also let them know that you are secure enough to change your mind after thinking things through. And it will teach them that their father backs you up and they can't come between you by complaining to him about your decisions.

There may be issues that arise from the difference in rules at your house and that of their mother. Make sure your husband knows about these issues and takes a leading role in dealing with them. He should be the one to address these issues with his children and his ex-wife.

Some issues are easy to address. The difference in bedtimes can be handled by saying, “This is the bedtime when you are in this house. If your mother sets a different bedtime, that is her prerogative and you must follow the bedtimes in each house.

If, however, you are talking about something like wearing make-up, revealing clothing, or underage drinking at home; that is an entirely different matter. These issues should be addressed with the ex-wife and her husband. If you feel strongly about them, you should make your feelings known and give reasons why you think the behavior is not acceptable. Your husband should then take up these issues with his ex-wife.

In the end, he needs to support your feelings and if the other family does not relent, it becomes a case of “in our house, you must behave this way.” What you do at your mother's is her business. If you feel that what the ex is allowing is endangering the children, that is another issue that needs to be taken up with the lawyers and courts.

Your husband needs to be involved in the lives of his children. Do not let him put the tasks of homework, soccer practice and outings off on you. These should be shared responsibilities. He needs to make time for the children as well. If you bring children to the marriage, he must make time for them equally.

When it comes to homework, divide the responsibilities. If he is better at grammar than you, let him work with the kids on their language arts homework. If science is your strong suit, you help with that homework. If both of you show an interest in the schoolwork, it will go a long way toward encouraging the kids to value their work. It will also give him those few extra minutes with the kids that let them know they are important to him.

Outings with the children are very important and hubby should be included when possible. Camping and fishing trips, day trips to the zoo or national parks, sporting events and festivals are all great ways to meld you, your husband and your various children into a family unit. If time and money allow, a monthly outing with the entire family is a great way to form bonds in a neutral setting away from the demands of daily living.

If time and money do not allow for monthly outings of this kind, try to plan them as often as possible. These types of outings are great for birthdays and special days. But the key word here is “family” outing. Make sure that your husband is in on the planning of any outing and that he goes with you. No excuses allowed. He needs to know the value of spending quality time with his children (and yours) in a setting that is non-threatening and non-controversial.

Set a budget for these trips. You will need to pay any admission fees, eat, and maybe buy souvenirs.

Your husband will want to know how much this will cost before he climbs on the band wagon. Make sure he is in on the planning.

Let the children have some say also. You don't want to plan a great trip to an airplane museum, only to find that none of the children are interested in airplanes. You whole day can be spoiled if the kids are not interested in the event. Hopefully, your husband knows his kids well enough to plan a surprise event every now and then. If not, he surely needs to get to know them.

Your husband needs to know that you want an active role in raising his children. But you need to know what role he expects you to play. Make sure that you define that role early in the relationship. Do not enter the role of step-mother without having set those boundaries. There are many areas of mothering that can be a trap for a step-mother.

Does he know your thoughts on rules for running a house with children? Write them down and discuss them. When you have reached a consensus, write them down for the children. He should let them know that these are the rules the two of you have set for this household. He should also let them know that he will have an active part in enforcing the rules.

What does your husband expect from you in the area of discipline? Does he want to hand it over to you? Don't let him. You want to be a partner in the discipline of his children, not the “gestapo step-mom”. The two of you should outline the consequences for infractions of the rules. And you should both stick to these consequences. This will let the children know that you are a united front and they can't manipulate the situation by getting between you.

Money issues often cause conflict in any family. They can be more volatile in a step-family situation. You and your husband should have a budget and he should bear the responsibility of handling money issues with the children when they arise. Children should know how much money they can spend and what is within the family budget for extra-curricular activities.

Money matters should be handled fairly for all children: mine,yours and ours. There may be occasions when the other family may give extravagant gifts or take expensive outings that you are not able to match. Let your husband address these issues. They should not affect the way you spend money within your family.

In reality, all we are saying is that your husband should be involved in all aspects of his family's life. He should not be allowed to abdicate responsibility to you, the step-mom. Keep him informed as to what happens in his absence, keep him involved in the decision making and make sure he spends time with each child every day if possible and weekly if not.

Taking care of yourself is important to your family

Being a step-mom should not define who you are. You were a person in your own right before you met and married this man with children. You are still that woman. You have just added another dimension to your life. Granted, it may be the most important role you will ever have, but it does not make you less of the person you were, but more.

Take care of that person. You had interests before. Was it art, volunteering at an animal shelter, music, church work, reading, working with the elderly, visiting museums, needlepoint? What ever your interest, they help define you. Don't give them up.

The most important part of being you is finding time for you. Step-parenting can be demanding. You have to live your life and supervise the lives of others at the same time. Budgeting time can be a real problem when you add the demands of two or more people to that budget. Make sure that you carve out time for yourself every week. You need to keep up with old friends, old interest and your own family. Don't let that go in favor of your new family. You will regret it and become resentful.

Make time for those activities that are important to you and that define who you are. Your husband fell in love with that person. If you become another person entirely, will you still be attractive to him in the same way. Don't let go of what attracted you to each other in the first place.

If you are used to spending time with friends on a regular basis, keep doing it. You may have to change from meeting at Starbucks to McDonald's. If your friends agree, take the little ones to play at McDonald's and visit with your friends while they play. McDonald's now serves gourmet coffees. They will not be sacrificing much and if they value your friendship, they will adjust.

Invite your friends to come sit in the stands with you for baseball practice or games. You may have to return the favor if they have children, but you can work out the details of meeting around the children's activities and still keep up with friends.

Stand up for yourself. A blended family can sometimes create a hostile environment for a step-mom. Children are resentful. You are not their mom and they may take pains to prove that to you. Don't let them get away with it. Let them know that you are not trying to be their mom. You are their step-mom. Explain what that means. When you are in this house, I am in charge. I am not your mom, but I am the mom of this house. Make it clear that they don't have to love, or even like, you. But when they are in your house, they have to respect your rules.

Realize that you cannot make everyone happy. Be true to yourself and your beliefs. Act on them with the support of your husband and even if the step-children and the other mother don't like or agree with them, you will be better off emotionally than if you compromise your beliefs to make them happy.

Your emotional well being is in your hands. Do not let situations go until they are unbearable. Make sure that you and your husband set aside time to talk. A weekly dinner alone, even if it is at home, is a great time to review the week and discuss any problems. If you see something that could become a problem, address it early, before it becomes acute. We often think that things will get better with time, but they seldom do. They usually intensify. So don't let things go without addressing them.

Don't try to be everything to everyone. You are the step-mom and that position comes with constraints. You may or may not be invited to take part in school activities such as parent-teacher conferences. Don't worry about the times you are not included. Make the most of the time you are.

Your step-children will learn to respect you if you can gracefully bow out when their other mother is at the forefront. If you are there for them when they need you and you treat them with fairness and respect when they are in your care, they will eventually respond with affection. Don't rush it and don't become despondent when they seem not to respond. Keep your emotions in check and know that time will bring them around if you treat them respectfully.

Finding time to be alone with your husband is essential to your emotional well-being. You must keep that relationship strong in order to deal with the family issues that arise. If you (or your husband) become complacent in your marriage and do not communicate on a regular basis, you will become emotionally exhausted trying to deal with issues that arise without the support of an informed partner.

Do a periodic check on your emotions. Are you feeling unappreciated, left out, frustrated, overwhelmed? If so, address the issues. Don't let them fester until they become unbearable. Don't approach the situation by complaining. State the issue, tell how you are feeling and ask for help in resolving the issue. Nothing will change if you don't initiate change. And you will be the one to suffer.

Pay attention to your physical well-being. If you allow yourself to get run down and exhausted, you will not be able to help anyone else. If you are used to exercising regularly, be sure to make time for that activity in your new busy life. It will give you time to think about things and will also boost your energy level.

Eat right! You should be working to see that your children are getting healthy foods on a regular basis. Don't forget to do the same yourself. Letting your diet suffer will cause you to be tired and sluggish. You may put on weight (or lose weight) if you get so busy that you depend on fast food or snacks instead of eating a proper diet. And we all know that adding or losing weight can affect our self image and sense of well-being. Make a pledge to yourself and your family to keep healthy, easy to prepare foods available for those busy times when you would normally resort to fast food.

Feed you mind as well. Make time for those activities that will expand your mind. Research has shown that reading, working crossword or sudoku puzzles, or playing computer games can help to keep your mind active into old age. But you must start these activities at an early age. It does not help to start them in your twilight years. So find what you like to do and practice it regularly. You don't have to take a long time, fifteen or twenty minutes a day will help you feel alert and keep your mind working.

Don't try to live up to society's expectations. Each situation is unique and it should be handled within that framework. “A step-mom should………” is a trap that you don't want to fall into. A better way of looking at it is “In this situation, I should……..” Evaluate your situation and decide the best way for you, with your unique personality, background and set of values, to handle the situation. If you are bound by society's expectations, you may well overlook the ideal solution to a problem concerning you and your family. After all, no two families are alike, so how can society's expectations meld with your situation?

Being a step-mom does not have a job description that must be followed. Every family has its own expectations of what a step-mom should be, based on the examples of motherhood put forth by their own mother and grandmothers. Adding society's expectations to the mix can create pressure that will break the will of the strongest personality. Again, be true to yourself and your beliefs and don't worry about the expectations of a society that does not have a window into your situation.

Let your husband and his ex-wife handle as many things as possible so you can concentrate on developing a relationship with your step-children. You do not need to be involved in every area of their lives to prove your love and concern for them. Let their other mother deal with teachers and school. You can help with homework without having parent teacher conferences.

Let their other mother take them to buy soccer shoes. You can still attend games and root for them. You don't have to have control over everything. And allowing her to do some of these things will give you more time for the things that are important to you.

Work on your relationship with your step-children. Keep an open mind and don't deceive yourself into thinking that they are in love with you when they are not. The relationship between step-parent and step-child takes time to develop. It will go though many stages. Be aware of where you are in the relationship. Don't push it, allow it to develop naturally.

There will be a honeymoon stage with your step-children as well as with your husband. This may actually occur before the marriage in the relationship with you and the children. Often once the marriage actually takes place, the children become resentful.

In building a relationship with your step-children, you must take into account their ages. Even birth parents have difficult times with children at certain ages. Expect this and don't put the blame on yourself. Teenagers, for instance, are difficult to deal with in the best of circumstances. Don't blame yourself if you are having a rough time with a teen step-child. Realize it for what it is and do your best to work through it. If you are consistent and fair, chances are you will come through it with a stronger relationship.

Strive always to be fair and consistent with your children. Let them know your boundaries and teach them to respect them. Let them know that you love them no matter what, but you don't always like their actions. Keep to these principles and keep their father involved in any problems that arise. Don't try to protect him and handle things on your own. This can backfire on you, creating resentment toward you from father and children.

Know your limits. You cannot control everything. Your step-children have two families and there will always be things that are not in your control. Let go of them. You will create emotional and physical problems for yourself if you continue to dwell on things that are out of your control. Discuss them with your husband. If his decision is that they cannot be changed, let them go.

Step-parenting is a very difficult, often thankless job. If you do not take care of yourself emotionally, physically and mentally you will create problems for yourself and your family that may have long reaching consequences for all. Please take care of yourself.

Relationships | Family

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