How to Start Transforming Your Blended Family's Future (Part 1)
We all seem to enter into stepfamily life with different perspectives and expectations around how our home will operate. We want peace, but we experience chaos. We want cooperation, but we get resistance. We want supportive and caring relationships, but we encounter conflict and disrespect.
At some point, every step-couple realizes they need more structure and healthy boundaries in their home. But they often get stuck…
- How do we manage our different parenting styles?
- How do we get all the kids to behave and be respectful?
- How can we achieve order and peace in our home?
Change needs to happen…but where do we begin?
To answer these questions, let's first take a look at my favorite power-packed reality TV star, Super Nanny Jo Frost! Nanny Jo has a knack for turning around a crazy, chaotic household and she knows how to create structure and peace — even under extreme circumstances.
Super Nanny Cuts to the Chase
I am a HUGE fan of the show 'Super Nanny'! When my kids were little I was a bit obsessed watching Nanny Jo. Her no-nonsense approach to managing kids and moving families forward is impressive, to say the least.
Nanny Jo is observant, direct, effective and caring. She's mastered the art of speaking the truth in love — to children and adults. And…she does it all with that charming British accent, which makes me chuckle!
My favorite part about the show is having a front row seat to the transformation of each family. Every family she works with is unique, but every single time the kids start out in the same place — they resist change and fiercely rebel against Nanny Jo's ways. It's an uphill battle all the way. These kids are unruly, destructive, disrespectful and out of control!
But by the end of each episode the kids have done a complete turnaround. They've learned to accept new expectations for their behavior and to respect healthy boundaries. The whole family appreciates the difference that Nanny Jo has made in their home and there's always a tearful goodbye when she takes flight in her little British car (I'll admit that I sometimes cry along with the family).
I'm amazed to watch these struggling homes go from absolute chaos to structured peace and loving relationships. It's such a tangible picture of how expectations and healthy boundaries can transform a family's future.
Start With the Right Approach
One of the first ways Nanny Jo starts the transformation process is by implementing 'House Rules'. Now because her families are often dealing with some pretty extreme behaviors, it makes sense that Nanny Jo's House Rules are quite lengthy.
But most step-couples aren't dealing with such extreme behaviors. They just need to get everyone on the same page and moving in the right direction. And implementing a big list of rules can be overwhelming and unproductive.
Sometimes it can feel like we're just shooting in the dark. We want things to be different, but we aren't sure what approach to take.
Due to the challenging dynamics that come along with stepfamily life, your approach needs to be strategic and discipline must be handled with care.
Mike and I like to use the term 'Code of Conduct' rather than 'House Rules'.
House rules often come with an expectation for the kids to just comply and conform. This can create disconnection and resentment in step relationships. But when creating a 'Code of Conduct' for your stepfamily, you should be intentionally moving forward in a positive direction — toward your 'Desired Destinations'.
Step 1: Define Your 'Desired Destinations'
If you're going to lead your stepfamily forward, first you have to figure out where you want to go. Mike and I encourage step-couples to take some time and identify their 'Desired Destinations'. This is so important because if you aren't intentional about where you're headed as a family, you'll probably end up somewhere you really don't want to be — we call this a 'Default Future'.
Here are some crucial things to consider together:
- What do you want relationships to look like in your stepfamily?
- What kind of atmosphere do you want to create in your home?
- What are the values you want to teach and model to your children and step-children?
Exploring these questions is a process that will take a little time, but your family is worth the investment. Work together to explore what's most important to each of you and then clearly define (in writing) how you want to lead your family forward.
Step 2: Prioritize
Once you've answered these questions, then you're ready to prioritize and get really clear on what's most important for your family in this season.
As an example let's look at Kevin and Jenny's process. This step-couple has identified their family's Desired Destinations as this:
- Relationships to be respectful and supportive
- Home atmosphere to be peaceful and fun.
- High values are honesty, responsibility and teaching/modeling generosity and helping others.
Most recently, Kevin and Jenny have been experiencing some problems in their home. When Jenny's teenage daughter is gone at her dad's house, Kevin's younger kids get into her stuff without permission. When the teenager returns home and realizes that her personal things have been disturbed, she confronts the younger kids and they deny it.
Their home is filled with bickering and tension because of this situation. The kids' behavior is disrespectful and dishonest. Step relationships are strained. Instead of experiencing a peaceful home environment, there's conflict and distrust.
At this stage in their stepfamily's development, Kevin and Jenny have identified this specific issue as a high priority because it directly opposes their 'Desired Destinations'. If they were to allow this situation to continue, their family would be at risk of ending up in a default future — far from what they really want.
Making a Difference
When I think about the impact that Super Nanny has had on all those families, I wonder where they would've ended up had they not learned to move forward in a positive direction. This is a sobering thought that every couple needs to consider for their own family - what do you need to do now so that your family can avoid ending up in a default future?
Next week I'll move onto the next steps — How to Implement a Simple 'Code of Conduct' in Your Home.
But until then, I want to challenge you to set up a time to meet with your partner and explore your own 'Desired Destinations'.
You can make a difference and start transforming your home now by leading your step-family in the right direction!
QUESTION: How will you define your 'Desired Destinations'? Leave a comment below…