Navigating the Blended Family

I was speaking with a loved one the other day. Let’s call him ‘Mark.’ He is the father of a teenage son whose mother, (let’s call her Mary) had married a new guy some years ago. Mark and Mary also have additional children with their current partners. Unfortunately, there is a great deal of friction between Mark and Mary. They have several philosophical differences on how to raise their young man in training. On top of that there is friction between the Mark and Mary’s husband.

In listening to the many stories I’ve heard there is a severe level of dysfunction. None of the adults are handling things as best as they could. In some cases the adults are behaving like children. This make life brutally unhealthy for the real child caught in the middle.

One of the things Mark said to me was (paraphrasing), “When it comes to ole boy, (the husband) I just ignore him and avoid him cause he is irrelevant.” From what I’ve heard the husband has said and done some highly combative things about Mark in front of his son. I understand Mark’s feelings. But I cringed on the inside because I knew that this attitude is also a part of the overall problem. I’ll explain.

Blended families (noun) …a family consisting of a couple and their children from this and all previous relationships, is more the norm today than at any other time in America. It’s challenging to raise children in a traditional family as it is. When combining families after the adults take on new partners, there is a special skill set that adults must learn to provide a peaceful and productive environment for the children.

There are so many variables for parents to consider for children when new partners arrive. There are educational, recreational, discipline, and financial responsibilities, just to name a few. The bulk of conflicts probably revolve around the last two; discipline and financial.

blended_family_video

There is no ‘one’ way to handle these challenges. Each group can decide for themselves. For example, some groups may decide that only the ‘biological’ parents can administer discipline. Some may co-parent equally in all situations. Regardless, there needs to be a certain set of agreements. And those agreements needed to be followed consistently so that the child know what is expected and what to expect. I could a lot more time on details and differing scenarios. Just know that handling the critical issues will help regulate the day to day.

Another thing biological parents need to consider as well is the gift of what I like to call the bonus parent. I can tell you from experience. Being a bonus dad is a precarious thing. One one hand I was expected to love and care for my exes children as if they were my own. This means providing not only financially, but emotionally as well. I was expected to make a holistic investment day in and day out. And I was happy to do that. On the other hand, there was also an inherent understanding that when there was a conflict of principles and beliefs, the reality that I was NOT the biological parent was surely pointed out. After stepping back and taking the ‘L’ in that episode, (and possibly looking like a second class parent in front of your bonus kids if they know you have a different opinion than mom) I was expected to pick up where I left off with the same level of devotion, without the same level of authority and credibility. The point is put some respect on the bonus mother/father’s name. Especially the one that’s willing to do it right.

So, when it comes to co-parenting in blended families, I said all that to say this to biological parents:

  • Be mature not petty! For whatever reason you broke up, you broke up. Fighting old battles is only going to hurt your children. That extra stress ain’t good for you either!
  • Sit down and come to an agreement to co-parent. Be realistic as far as schedules, incomes and so forth. But be flexible too! If things need to change or an adjustment needs to be made, have another meeting.
  • The incoming parent is not irrelevant. A blended family is just that. This new person is now a part of your family whether you like it or not. Further, they are providing a service to be there when you cannot. Don’t badmouth or put them down in front of the child. It won’t hurt for all four adults to be in on the agreements. This isn’t easy depending on history, personalities, and if there was some infidelity involving the breakup that led to one being a couple in the first place. I get it. Suck it up! This is a package deal. You don’t have to like them to set up a plan for your child/children.
  • Whatever roles you agreed the co-parent will have, make sure the child is aware and live by it. Don’t allow children to play you from the middle.
  • Finally, don’t bad mouth the other parent, bonus parent either. If your child is of age and an uncomfortable truth needs to be shared, do so without being an asshole about it. Keep it factual and not personal.

New Bonus Parent:

  • Humble yourself. Don’t go sticking your chest out trying to flex and claim territory. You already got the person you want to be with. Co-parenting is not about your ego. It’s an honorable service.
  • Back your partner without letting your partner become unreasonable. Be the mind of logic and principle when things get tough between biological parents. Listen, understand, and empathize. But if you need to offer some calmness and a reasonable alternative point of view, be courageous enough to offer it. You are not there to just signify, but to bring value.
  • Remember what I said about you not being the biological. You may be doing more than the biological. The biological may suck! As a matter of fact, you aren’t even broken in yet till that kid screams at you, “You ain’t my daddy/momma!” When you know you are right, hold your ground and ride out the process. If you hold fast and your partner and you stick together the child will benefit and appreciate it later. Know that more than likely, you may never get the due you deserve. Learn to praise yourself.

This co-parenting thing ain’t for children, punks and bitches. You have to be fully adult, self-aware and well grounded to succeed as co-parents.

 

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Legacy and Love for Children

I admit it.  Sometimes I worry about what my legacy will be on the Earth after I leave it.  I wonder will I reach my potential.  Will I touch the lives I am supposed to touch.  Have I wasted too much time already?  Do I make the right decisions by in large?  Am I making the impact I am supposed to make?  I battle with these thoughts all the time.  It’s not as if I can’t enjoy the moment either.  (though I am sure I don’t live in the moment enough.)  It’s just that I am mindful that life as we know it here doesn’t go on forever. 

One thing I do know for sure though is that when I look at my children I have no questions about the outstanding people they are and that they already are making a difference.  Each of them like all people have unique gifts and talents.  But they also are thoughtful, caring and considerate people.  Though two of them are grown I found out that a parent’s job is never really over.  A great man said he learned that when his children became adults that is when the parenting really began.  Imagine that?     

There have been many ups and a few downs.  And I’ve enjoyed most of the stages and adventures that my young people have experienced.  I look forward to helping them in every way I can as long as I can.

As a gift to them, next week I will share some fatherly thoughts about each of them starting with the eldest. 

It’s just something I feel I need to do.

Love Passage, By Gabbi

dad-gab

Making her blogging debut… this is my youngest daughter, my baby, Gabbi!   She wrote a piece on her interpretation on 1 Corinthians 13. 

Love Passage

Love will stand in line and wait it’s turn.  It doesn’t always want what others have and it doesn’t brag about what it does have. 

Love is polite even when the other person is rude.  It doesn’t always have to be first.

Love doesn’t get angry over the small things, and it doesn’t remember one thing after another to be hurt.

Love isn’t happy when someone else fails but is happy with the truth. 

If I am very smart, almost a genius, if I can figure out the hardest math problems, but don’t love others I am nothing.

Love never gives up. 

Preaching will stop someday.  So will speeches.  Knowledge will come to an end. 

Today we only know part of what there is to know.  We can preach and speak only with a small part of understanding.

But when perfection comes then what is imperfect will go away.

Good For The Soul, Great For The World ~ Fathers Stand Up!

This is a sensitive subject matter for me.  I am a father.  Heck, I am a grandfather.  I am also a mentor to young boys and girls.  Some of my interactions are of the casual hit and miss based on time and opportunity.  And some are more intimately detailed.  Regardless, I see all children as our most precious resource.  I know that today kids are smarter, quicker and more savvy than ever before.  They have more access to technology and the fast pace of the world seems to fit right in with their ability to absorb information and the flavor of their environment.

Sometimes when you talk to little children, they amaze us as they seem to have the spirits of adults.  This is no doubt of God’s potential placed in them as they seem to be ready for most any challenge.  Still I know children carry way too much responsibility and stress these days as they are often left to fend for themselves as single mothers struggle to hold things together. Or oftentimes young parents may be too much into themselves seeking to live their glorious days and nights at the expense of their young.   

I’d be the first to tell you.  There is no manual to this thing.  Parenting is a huge challenge.  Still I believe that we have to stop and take notice of the young people around us.  In their eyes there is a hope, an anticipation, a longing to first find the love from their base.  (the parents)  There is a need for physical and emotional security from the base especially as they branch out to intermingle with other children.  There is a demand for direction and structure, so that they understand respect and boundaries.  There is a need for vision, for someone to recognize their gifts, talents and abilities and to teach and encourage them to pursue those and not just follow the crowd. 

As precious as our mothers and sisters are, I believe there is a need for strong men to provide a lot of the structure needed to help our young people succeed.  Images are important.  And the state of a man in a child’s life tends to determine many a fate of our children.  If  a strong and committed man is present and active, kids tend to stabilize.  If he is absent or out of place, it complicates and destabilizes.  This is not some sexist statement minimizing the abilities or contributions of women and mothers.  To the contrary, I am saying that they can’t do it by themselves and they have done far too much as it is trying to hold down both sides of the bar. 

Men and specifically fathers need to step up and dedicate their lives towards investing into their children.  Period!  That means financially as well as with their presence.  By presence I mean time, but I also mean making the best of that time.   There has been occasion for instance where I spent time with my youngest daughter.  And because of the schedule I hold working three jobs including writing, that I would pick her up and take her someplace, but my mind would be in rest mode or all over the place scattered as I answered calls and took care of business or arranged appointments while we rode to some place we’d go to.  But my spirit made me recognize that I was cheating my daughter out of my full attention.  I need to hear how her day or her week was.  I needed to listen as she talked about her relationships at school and the new accessory for her DS game.  I got with the program quick!  She gets my full attention at all times now.  We talk, we laugh, and we hug many times over.  She knows she has a daddy that will lead, love, and respect her as she makes her way through adolescence and beyond. 

I’m old school.  I believe in respect when it comes to kids and adults.  I still say, “Yes ma’am,” and “No sir,” even if the person is younger than me.  So I don’t tolerate any disrespect at all from young people.  However, I also know that I need to make a connection with them.  I need to look into their eyes, and likewise respect their gifts, talents, and the seriousness with which their issues mean to them.  It’s a two way street.

When men start to step into our places and take responsibility for our children, and then also to a smaller degree the other children we come into contact with, we will be setting the course for a better tomorrow for our families, our communities and our nation. 

Men, fathers, take your places!  It’s good for the soul, and great for the world!