Is Parenting Creating Conflict in Your Relationship?
Parenting in a blended family is tough — I know, that's an understatement. But here's the thing…parenting isn't just about parenting. It's about your relationship as a couple too.
You and your partner entered your relationship with differing ideas, goals and parenting styles. So, when the heat is on, you might feel like you're in opposing corners.
If you're a parent, you've probably noticed times when you feel like you have to "protect" your kids from that "mean and nasty" step-parent. If you're a step-parent, you might feel hurt, angry or ignored when it comes to parenting.
The truth is, parenting in a stepfamily takes teamwork. You can't parent effectively unless you are united as a couple. AND — you'll have a tough time staying connected if you're not parenting effectively.
You both bring value to your parenting team, so you need to clarify your roles, use your complementary strengths and help each other follow through.
The biggest battles Kim and I have ever fought were about parenting. We each got locked into our own perspectives and wrestled each other for control of the situation. Suddenly a disagreement about how to handle a parenting issue became a relationship issue and we would end the night hugging our own side of the bed…if we were even in the same bed.
Other times we experienced the exact opposite. We met parenting challenges as a team. We played our roles well. We developed a plan that we each contributed to and we supported each other in the process. After plenty of practice we discovered that we actually made a pretty good team which brought us closer in our marriage!
3 Steps to Parenting as a Team
Every step-couple can get united in parenting and grow closer in their partnership when they take these three steps.
STEP 1: Clarify Your Roles
Parents and step-parents have separate and distinct roles when it comes to parenting. Like a tuba player trying to play the 1st violinists melody…things don't go very well when you're roles are mixed up.
A parent's role is to be the primary source of parental authority in the home. Your kids feel safest with you. You have a bond that began at their birth, and that is not easily broken. You've got to learn to be both loving and firm. You've got to set the expectations and deliver the consequences when necessary.
A step-parent's role is to be the encourager. You are your partners best cheerleader and supporter. You've got to help your partner (behind closed doors) to develop family values and goals, build a plan when discipline is needed and support them even when things don't go as planned. That leads us to the next step
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STEP 2: Use Your Strengths
The fact that you both entered your relationship with different ideas, goals and parenting styles is actually a great strength.
Identifying your family values, your goals for the kids' future and your house rules are all things you develop as a couple. Your individual perspectives are valuable and your decisions should honor and reflect both of your perspectives.
Kim and I discovered that we each brought different strengths when it came to discipline. As a step-parent I tended to be more objective. I looked at the "long game" and wanted to use discipline to help my step-daughter, Annika to develop character and habits that would benefit her in adulthood. I was good at brainstorming consequences and offering feedback.
Kim was fully aware of Annika's history. She had witnessed first-hand the hurts Annika had experienced. She knew how Annika thought and how she reacted in different situations. Kim understood the "short game" and made sure that discipline sent the right message — "We love you too much to let you behave that way…"
The key to using your strengths is listening. Listen to hear, not to challenge or change. The best plans develop after you've really heard each other.
STEP 3: Follow Through
After you've heard each other and developed your plan, you each need to follow through. This is based on your clarified roles.
To reiterate Step 1, parents will deliver any "bad news" to their kids. Parents, it's your job to clarify house rules and set the boundaries. You deliver consequences and hold your kids accountable. The more you maintain parental authority, the better chance your partner has to build a positive relationship with their step-kids. In the long run your kids will be better off and your partnership will remain strong.
Step-parents, your follow through is a bit different. You need to support your partner in their difficult job of always having to be the "bad guy". You can encourage them before they talk to the kids and affirm their good work after the conversation. Disciplining kids can be draining, you can help fill your partner back up.
Another note for step-parents. The toughest follow through job you have is when you don't fully believe in the final decision. I had to learn over the years that Kim had the final, final say when it came to disciplining Annika. I often ended conversations saying, "…that's what I think, now I'll support whatever decision you make". Then I had to actually do that — even when I didn't like Kim's final decision. That developed trust between Kim and I. It communicated that I wasn't just looking to get my way, but really wanted what was best for our whole stepfamily.
Final note for parents: this doesn't mean your partner gets cut out of decision making. You need to do your best to fully listen to your partner's input and do everything you can to build a plan that includes both your perspectives.
When you follow these three steps confidence will grow. You'll have more confidence in yourself as you practice sticking to your role. You'll build more confidence in your partner as you discover the value in their strengths. You'll gain more confidence as a team when you witness each other following through — even when that follow through is difficult.
Don't let parenting cause separation in your relationship. Commit to being a team in parenting and you'll grow more connection in your partnership!
QUESTION: Which of these three steps are you the best at this point in your journey? Leave a comment below…