Thursday, September 6, 2012

Me, the Ex, or the Kids?

How would you suggest eliminating or at least minimizing the effect that an ex-spouse has on the current relationship? I currently feel like I’m taking a back seat or am secondary to the original spouse. Will I ever be the priority?

This may sound strange, but I suggest establishing a relationship (casual) with your spouse’s ex. This may take place over time with several invitations to get together and graciously allow them to decline. It’s important for the other biological parent to hear from you that you are not in competition with them or intend to replace them in the kids’ lives.

As long as there are kids involved, the new spouse may be “secondary.” The kids were there first; pre-existing relationships. Our new spouse is the “new person” in this family and basically unknown to our children. It’s important for the kids to believe they are still important to you; not replaced by your new spouse and left behind.

Couples “in love” have a difficult time seeing past themselves and understanding how the kids are seeing the new marriage (even if they say they are for it). Take the time to hear your children out and give them a safe place to share what’s going on in their world.

Discipline in the Stepfamily

If the biological parent and the step parent have different parenting techniques how do you discipline the kids differently and still be fair especially when there is a shared kid (“ours”) between the two. How do you combine the styles or parent differently?

This is one of the biggest issues stepcouples face. Too often they are critical of one another, even in front of the kids. One is too strict; the other too lenient. Remember, both parents have been parenting already. They have a style and the kids know their style. There may also be guilt over the divorce and because of custody arrangements, they may have minimal time with their kids and subsequently be more lenient than they normally would.
Because of the style differences – forget fair… for a while. Make sure the consequences fit the “crime.”Be consistent, follow through without threatening and remember you are the “adult.” In the meantime, educate yourself on good parenting skills and work on a common parenting style that can be implemented over time.

Stepfamily Inclusiveness

What do you see as the most important concept for step-families to address or incorporate to build strong family relationships?

Inclusivity - inclusion vs. exclusion! This has to be intentional. Step-relationship development is complicated and is being done with people you don’t know very well, love, or sometimes even like. It also will include personal responsibility regarding owning your own attitudes and behavior. It can be a wonderful place for personal growth and maturity. Lastly it will include educating yourself regarding the new stepfamily territory you are entering. Then you know what your new “normal” is and realize the obstacles you will encounter and a productive way to handle them. As one person said, “We are no longer surprised by the surprises!”

Conflict between Ex's

What are some advice/tips to softening the impact of a legal situation between biological parents in the kids’ environment? (High conflict between exes for example.)
First of all, keep the kids out of the middle. They should not be used as messengers. To do that you must be willing to meet face to face with a coach or communication skills instructor to enhance your ability to communicate and resolve conflict. Another approach would be to meet with a mediator, pastor, or neutral party you both choose who could facilitate the conversation and move it toward resolution.

Lawyers don’t do this because they are adversarial by definition. Their job is to represent their client and get the best deal for them. What’s the reason resolution is important? For the children! Conflict between parents continues the chaos in their lives.

About Me

Carri is a documentary film producer and communication skills trainer. She and her husband speak nationally on relationships, communication and stepfamily development.