Co-parenting with your new spouse will probably be one of the toughest things you will ever attempt. In fact, two out of three second marriages fail within the first five years. The good news is that once you make it past that point, second marriages are statistically stronger than first marriages. The question is: How do you become the one in three that lasts? Ask any marriage counselor and they’ll probably tell you to put your couple relationship first, above all else. That seems like a no-brainer, but what does it really mean? To simply tell someone to focus on their marriage is too vague to be any help at all.
How to be the one couple that makes it
Obviously there is no magic bullet; but there are steps you can take right now to strengthen your stepfamily. I’m going to share what I believe to be the #1 most important key to success. To narrow the topic and to provide some concrete and practical tips, I’m going to focus on one aspect of the couple relationship that is specifically related to parenting.
So here it is, my #1 Strategy: Get on the same page!
Your parenting style
You and your partner each developed a parenting style over time. Your relationship with your children started with instant love and your parenting style emerged as your children moved through different stages. As this foundation evolved, some of your norms and expectations became ingrained.
Your new spouse’s parenting style
Now let’s flash forward. You are in a new relationship with someone that also has kids. Like you, he or she developed a parenting style and established his/her own norms and expectations. Merging your two styles may be trickier than you think. While it is important to be on the same page regarding your overall parenting philosophy and big-picture goals, it is equally important that you consider the seemingly mundane routines of life. Some of these include: bedtime, mealtimes, personal hygiene, chores and allowances and academic expectations (just to name a few).
Keep mole-hills from becoming mountains
These “little” details can sneak in as pet-peeves and develop into a full-blown wedge between you and your spouse (by the way, kids can smell a wedge a mile away). The key is to consider the details before they become an issue. Have a game plan as to how and when to reconcile your expectations, if at all. There are a lot of variables that will impact your decisions, such as the ages of your children, whether or not the kids live with you, your relationship with the other parents, etc. You may not want to change some things. This is okay, but be prepared to explain to your children why there is one expectation for them and another for the other set of children.
To get started, try this exercise:
First, identify your expectations for each one of the bulleted items below. Next, have your spouse list his/her expectations on a separate sheet of paper. Now identify the areas of agreement and disagreement. The goal at this point is not to agree on everything, but rather, to recognize the areas that you have different beliefs and values so you can make deliberate decisions on how to proceed.
- Bedtime Rituals: how rigid is the time, (Does 8:00 mean 8:00, or does it mean 8:15 or 8:30? where do kids sleep, when is “lights out”, what about stories, etc.
- Food: where do we eat, what if someone doesn’t like the meal, what do we or don’t we eat for breakfast, dinner? How much is enough or too much, what about snacking?
- Hygiene: how often do young kids bathe, at night or in the morning, how long are showers, what about teeth, feet, hair, clothes?
- Chores & Allowances: Do kids have chores? What age do they start to, are boys and girls expected to do the same? How to distribute money is it tied to chores?
- Academic Expectations: Is a “C” good enough, who checks homework and how, what are consequences for poor performance or behavior?
There is help available! These are just a few considerations. For guidance on how to go about this process, and help finding the middle ground, email me to schedule a consultation. Together, we can determine if a Parenting Coach is right for your stepfamily.
(c) 2009 Blackwell Family Resources, LLC All rights reserved