How to Get Clear on What's Really Important in Your Blended Family
Prioritizing is something we all do.
We prioritize our day at work and our chores on the weekend. We prioritize our relationships. We prioritize where our money goes. We all prioritize. Yet I hear from couples all the time how they feel like they can't get a handle on their priorities — and I feel that way too sometimes.
Author Stephen Covey once said, "The key is not to prioritize what's on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities."
I think Stephen's onto something there for step-couples. Our lives are spilling over with "priorities" and we just keep trying to cram them into an already chaotic lifestyle. This is something every family struggles with, but blended families have the added chaos of kids moving back and forth, the influence of Ex's and sometimes multiple sets of kids — His, Hers and Theirs.
Every couple can enjoy long and short term wins in their blended family if they really learn to "schedule their priorities" as Covey says.
Stepfamily Lessons from a Hot Dog Eating Champion
We just celebrated July 4th — Independence Day for Americans. It's a time for BBQ's and Fireworks. For some, it's a day to watch Joey Chestnut gobble down an extraordinary number of hot dogs.
This year, Joey consumed 74 hot dogs (with buns) in 10 minutes to claim his 11th championship in Nathan's Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest on Coney Island in New York. Plus, he broke his own world record — I think that's both awesome and awful at the same time!
Just like any good athlete (Really…athlete? Hey, it was covered on ESPN), Joey only accomplishes his 10 minutes of fame by training — he's learned to prioritize.
In the two months leading up to the contest, Joey reported that he has a routine of running, swimming and walking his dog all to help burn calories and practice breathing techniques — a critical factor for competitive eaters. He also shares that he will eat no solid food except hot dogs for 6 weeks prior to a contest, plus he practices at least two trial runs where he'll consume at least 70 hot dogs in the days leading up to the event.
Joey prioritizes his days for months all around winning this contest with only two things on the line:
To protect his Hot Dog Eating Champion title
To win a $10,000 prize
As a husband, dad and step-dad I have to say Joey "Jaws" Chestnut actually inspires me. And I've got more on the line than he has.
My blended family is counting on me to get it right - and so is yours. So where do we start?
Begin at the End
In his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey challenges each of us to "Begin with the end in mind." If you want to schedule your priorities, then the first thing you need to do is clearly define what your priorities are.
A major blended family goal is raising the kids to adulthood. And doing that in such a way that all the relationships (biological and step) are connected and thriving as much as possible. Whether you're just starting your journey or you've been "blending" for years, you still need to get clear on your desired outcomes.
Here's 3 questions that will help you identify your priorities:
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1. What do I want to hear FROM my kids?
Imagine your child or step-child is headed to college or jumping into their first "real job". Somewhere along the way, they might have to answer the question, "What was it like growing up in your family?"
If you could be a fly on the wall in that moment, what would you hope to hear?
You probably want to hear them describe feeling loved. You might want to hear that they always knew you had their back. Or maybe you hope to hear that they learned how to stand up for what's right even when it's difficult.
Every day, you are influencing what they will say in that moment whether you realize it or not. If you know what you want to hear then, you'll know what priorities you need to live — today.
2. What do I want to see IN my kids?
Name the top 5 character traits you want to see in your child when they reach adulthood.
Here's mine: Patience, Kindness, Responsibility, Generosity, Self-Control
I wish I could wave a magic wand and guarantee that all three of our kids would live these traits into adulthood. But, it's just not that easy.
There are two research backed realities that we need to remember when it comes to building our children's character.
1. More is caught than taught
This simply means that my kids are going to learn more from what I do than anything that I say. So, if these are the traits I want my kids to pick up, then I have to live them first.
2. Parents are the greatest source of influence in a child's life
Contrary to popular belief — you have more of a voice in your child's life than their friends, the culture or the media. This has been shown over and over again.
Get clear on what you want to see IN your kids when they reach adulthood and that will help you prioritize your words and actions so that your kids see an example of how to live — today.
3. What do I want FOR my kids?
Think about your child's relational future. Just the fact that you're reading this most likely means you have some relational pain from your past. If there was no divorce, separation, abandonment (or in some cases a death) — you would not be in a blended family.
Regardless of all of the different ideas our culture has about marriage, one thing every couple agrees on is that we don't want our kids to experience the pain of relational separation. None of us raise kids hoping they'll experience a divorce someday. But we're often at a loss about how to help prevent that.
I'm here to tell you that research shows a healthy, thriving blended family couple can create an environment in their home that can actually begin to undo some of the emotional trauma kids experienced through their parent's separation.
And to repeat the two points above, you are your child's greatest influence and they will catch their cues from you. The best way to give them hope for a successful relational future is to model it for them. You'll be giving them a vision of the love, commitment and perseverance it takes to create a lasting family legacy.
Remember what you want for your kids' future. It will keep you focused on prioritizing your relationship with them (and with your partner) — today.
Now it's Time to Act
Okay, so now you're clear on what you want to hear FROM your kids about growing up in your family. You've defined the values you want to see IN your kids when they reach adulthood. And you know what you want FOR your kids' relational future.
It's time to act. Start by focusing on today.
My youngest is turning 14 this summer. Once we hit his birthday, I'll have 1460 days to influence him before he turns 18. That's 1460 opportunities to prioritize my words and actions to move us closer to our desired outcome.
To act effectively, you need to keep your long-term goals in mind — while you make your short-term, daily decisions. Focus on small steps. Decide what you need to do today or this week to set a positive example of what you want FROM, IN and FOR your kids.
Two simple questions you can ask yourself at this point:
What do I want to start doing?
What do I need to stop doing?
Thoughtful answers to these two questions once you know what you want FROM, IN and FOR your kids will impact your choices today and will impact your kids choices tomorrow.
Stepfamilies are Unique
These principles are effective for couples in any family form. But stepfamilies are unique and they take a unique approach.
Parenting in a stepfamily is different than parenting in a first family. And navigating the challenges of marriage is certainly different than the challenges first family couples face. That means you need a different understanding and different skills.
A great place to start learning about the unique needs of a stepfamily is by doing a little research and reading, which you can start right here on our blog. Read a few more articles - there's lots to choose from.
However you choose to move forward, make sure you're focused on your priorities!
QUESTION: What's one thing you want FROM, IN or FOR your kids in their future? Leave a comment below...