4 Tips for Choosing the Best Blended Family Advice
In an age of information overload, how do you know you're getting good advice?
I recently stumbled across an online forum intended for venting the challenges people face in their blended family. Step-parents and bio-parents were openly sharing their pain and stepfamily struggles.
I was drawn into one step-mom's story. She shared about her step-son treating her terribly. He was consistently rude and disrespectful. She described the hatefulness she felt from him and the dread she experienced every time he was scheduled for a visit. This step-mom was at her wits end, but somehow was still holding onto hope and genuinely seeking help.
My heart sank as I read the response of the forum moderator. It a nutshell, their advice was "tell that kid to shape up or ship out. If he doesn't treat you better, then he shouldn't be allowed in your home any longer…and if your husband doesn't like it, he can ship out too." Those aren't the exact words, but you get the idea.
Watch Out For Terrible Advice
So, let's back up.
First, a step-mom pours her heart out in about two paragraphs. Most likely having recently been hurt by her step-son. She's working through tough emotions and gives the tiniest snapshot of her immediate circumstances.
Next, in her emotional state, she receives advice that suggests she should stonewall her step-son and give her husband an ultimatum.
This is simply terrible advice.
Identifying Good Advice
We all need to watch out for terrible advice - there's a lot of it out there. Here's 4 steps to identifying good advice and filtering out the bad.
1. Consider the Source
The first question to ask yourself about the advice you're being given is this: Has the person I'm taking advice from ended up in a place where I want to be?
People most often share out of their own experience. Even professionals struggle at times to speak from a completely objective viewpoint. If you're thinking of following advice, make sure the advisor can back it up with success…the way YOU define success.
Are they living a lifestyle you want to live? Do they seem to be upholding the values that you believe in? Are their relationships the kind you want to have?
In the story above, the forum moderator's personal story told of a painful stepfamily experience and a devastating end to that chapter in their life. It makes sense that their advice to the step-mom (and to many others) was focused on self-preservation rather than reconciliation of relationships. And that may not be where this step-mom wanted to end up.
A good guide will already be down the path that you want to take in life. If you look beyond their words to evidence that they are already in a place you want to be — then they probably have some good advice.
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2. Get Out of the Consumer Mindset
We've all grown up in a culture of consumerism. We're bombarded with messages that continually reinforce the WIIFM mindset — that's What's in it For Me?!
The consumer mindset doesn't work well in family life, yet we're all unintentional victims of it! We instinctively know it's better to focus on giving more than getting, but when we're feeling hurt, lonely, angry, etc. - that can be difficult to do.
When you're taking advice that you hope will transform your blended family, ask yourself if it's focused more on giving. Don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting you drop healthy boundaries. But, keep in mind that it is possible to hold good boundaries and give at the same time.
That forum moderator wasn't focused on good boundaries. They suggested creating impenetrable walls. Relational walls will never create the thriving blended family this hurting step-mom was really looking for.
If you want to see your blended family thrive too, make sure your advisor(s) challenge you to stay focused on giving and away from that consumer mindset.
3. Connection Before Correction
If you've spent any time on our blog or in our video course you've heard us quote Patricia Papernow - "Connection, not Correction". This is a rule of thumb for step-parents suggesting that they stay focused on building bonded relationships with their step-children before they attempt to administer any discipline.
But, let's tweak that quote a bit and apply it in a different way. We all need to learn to focus on Connection Before Correction
When the challenges of stepfamily life have you feeling hopeless, you just want to fix the problem — right? The problem being your negative experience. Maybe you're being treated disrespectfully and that hurts. Maybe you feel stuck between your kids and your partner and you can't see a way out. Or maybe you're just lonely because your partner and step-kids are tight and you feel left out.
Rather than simply trying to Correct or fix the problem of your own pain, look first to the root of the problem. In many cases, the root is a connection issue.
Good advice will keep you focused on building relational connection as a first step in correcting the problem you're facing.
There is a direct correlation between relational connection and peace in family life. This is true for any family form, but stepfamilies are challenged from the beginning. New step-relationships mingle with the established connections of bio-relationships bringing challenges that first families don't have to navigate.
Make sure the advice you follow is helping you discover new ways to build connection first.
4. Beware of Silver Bullets
Research shows it takes an average of 7 years for a stepfamily to function well together. That's a long time!
The truth is, there are no magic formulas or quick fixes to solve the variety of challenges blended families face. The key to winning is not by hitting a few home runs - it's by hitting singles over and over in every inning.
When you hear advice that sounds too good or too easy to be true…it probably is. Advice that's realistic about imperfect progress and open about the hard work it will take to implement will keep you moving forward. "Silver bullet" advice for stepfamilies will most often lead to setbacks, feelings of frustration and more disappointment.
Most step-couples find that their journey to success is an uphill climb. Steer clear of advice that suggests it's a walk in the park.
Move Toward Your Goals
You probably have a goal for your stepfamily - your desired outcomes for your relationships and the values you want to instill in the kids. If you aren't sure of your goal — ask yourself how you want the kids to describe their experience of growing up in your stepfamily. The answer to this will give you some good goals to reach for.
Don't let bad advice get you off track. That will only move you away from your goals. If you're considering advice and the source is good, it keeps you focused on giving and connecting, it's not a "quick fix" and it moves you toward your goals - it might be advice worth following.
QUESTION: What other ways do you filter out bad advice? Leave a comment below...