Bonus parents, step parents, and blended families (Episode 135)
Are you navigating a blended family? Let’s be clear – this isn’t just about when they are young – this is for families navigating divorce, period. This affects the whole family regardless of when it happens, and this week we’ll talk about some strategies to keep the peace when the issue of exes and step parents are in the equation.
We are all a blended family of different needs, stories and perspectives.
Answering a listener question
Recently a listener asked the question,
What tips would you give to step-mom's, "bonus" mom's or blended families with grown children for maintaining peace & harmony during the busy holiday season?
Now clearly, we aren’t in the midst of the holiday season as I record this at the end of February…but that’s just it. Our actual recording day right now is “Fat Tuesday”, and there is Mardi Gras, and then St Patrick’s Day and Easter and birthdays and the 4th of July and…as you can see, there always seems to be a holiday, vacation or get-together that happens, and the stress of how to navigate it isn’t just reserved for November and December.
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Let’s address a few different dynamics here, and we got some great feedback and insights from many of you!
If you are a member of the 48 Days Eagles community or in the Mama Says Namaste Facebook group, these are where I pose questions to gather feedback from you – you see, it’s not just about us posing as experts.
We’re all in this together, and oftentimes it’s from learning about multiple perspectives that you can find more clarity on what resonates with you.
Where are we this week?
I've been getting serious about taking time off to do...nothing.
This Sunday Funday was a full day of that. We laid around in the sun, stretched, and I enjoyed an incredible massage by Jules and Ellie! We've been showing them how to massage well, knowing where muscles are and how to work out knots, and I have to say, they do a really great job!
And of course all that pampering then moved in to Juliet wanting to do my hair and makeup, so I let her have a hay-day making me a "magical unicorn" and enjoying some quality time together.
It's great to take those times to just be and enjoy your children, and I I definitely did this weekend!
Follow us on our journey on Insta as the FieldTripGypsies!
Bringing Awareness to the Blended Family
The first comment that stood out to me was from Bill Anderson, who said,
Be aware that just by asking the question you are already expending more effort towards the goal than 90% of families.
And I love what Joel Hawbaker stated. Joel is a Blended/Stepfamily Coach at Real Life Leading, and he laid it out like this:
There are a few thoughts that spring immediately to mind. The first one is to approach each situation with empathy, understanding, and respect (especially when involving grown children who may be looking to begin their own traditions)--this gives you a fighting chance of heading off potential problems much earlier on!
Second, is to plan ahead of time (as much as possible) who is going to be where for the different parts of the holidays--this allows everyone to be on the same page, even if it's not necessarily ideal.
Lastly, be willing to compromise on short-terms inconveniences for the sake of long-term cooperation (e.g. be willing to consider giving up some time this holiday, in the name of building a stronger foundation for understanding regarding future holidays).
So let’s break this down a bit:
Seek to Understand
The first thing laid out here is to approach each situation with empathy, understanding and respect. Remember that a divorce is between two people, yet it affects way beyond that. Recognizing that children may very well have been opposed to this, or feel strongly tied to one parent or the other, you have to first just approach with a desire to understand each relationship on an individual basis.
Divorce affects every relationship in the family, and this takes an adjustment period to find a new normal when not everyone is under the same roof.
When a separation occurs, this “new normal” may mean different family traditions, especially around big events – not just the holidays, but birthdays, weddings, and more.
Mar-Gerie Crawley is a family coach with a specialization in blended families. Seeing families blend together in Grace is her passion!! She’s been loving the blended family life for 11 years, and she says:
One thing I'll say for sure is as a bonus Mom I have to practice patience, understanding and grace during this time. It's important to remember that this season is for the kids. We have to make sure that we don't put pressure on them about who they want to be with. Keep the lines of communication open with everyone and don't take anything personal...no matter how personal it seems. The holiday season can be hard for a lot of people, so just be kind.
I’ll add this - especially for families where all the children are grown, and you’re navigating a bonus grandparent or trying to wrap your mind around your parent’s new partner, this is still critical. Open communication is vital to every relationship, regardless of age.
My biggest tip for being a bonus "mom" to kids who are close to your own age is to simply BE YOURSELF. Don't try to be their Mom and don't go overboard trying to win their approval either. Be kind, respectful and loving, but also stand your ground and realize that some kids take longer to mature than others. Some kids will always want their own biological parents together, and even if years have gone by, sometimes they may only see you as "their Dad's wife." Know your identity, be secure in who you are, and realize that your life has worth, value and significance - with OR without their stamp of approval.
Crystie Welte said,
Flexibility in schedule! I come from a blended family and then was blessed with a son when I married my husband so I've been on both sides of the equation. One year, we had 11 Christmas gatherings. It was insane! We soon learned we couldn't do it all. Now that our oldest is an adult, we NEVER put added pressure on him to attend family events. He makes it to the ones he can.
Be realistic on what is truly important. Is having the whole family together in one place truly the best scenario, or would it cause more stress anyway, with everyone running around?
Pay attention to your goal. Is your goal to connect with everyone? Maybe that means you don’t wrap it up on a big and hectic day like Christmas or an actual birthday, and you set aside some time when it’s a little less crazy to celebrate. Maybe you have some things that stay on your turf, and have people come to you. And maybe, you determine the juice isn’t worth the squeeze, and not every person needs to be at every event.
And when those events happen and you may not all see eye to eye, look for ways to navigate the conversation to the positive. My mother handled some toxic family situations growing up by always having conversation starters on the table.
You're not trying to change a person;
you're simply changing the direction of the conversation.
My dear friend Melissa, who’s parents divorced when she was young, and then she married and became a bonus mama to a 6 year old, says:
- Keep realistic expectations rather than trying to fit the Hallmark picture.
- 'Family’ can look different for every holiday or event.
- Allow for grace and, if age appropriate, giving the kid(s) a voice what they want to do or where to be....EVEN IF it means not seeing them Christmas morning.
- Plan ahead and early! Lay out a plan and put it on paper/email so there are no questions or confusion about what was decided.
That last note is such a great point.
Another listener, Sandy, brought up that, as a mother of children with two different fathers, it also depends on whether or not you have a parent that truly is willing to take part in the parenting process. Sometimes navigating blended families doesn’t mean trying to get everyone together, but managing it all in spite of a parent that isn’t stepping up to the plate for their families’ best interest.
So what do you do when you’re navigating blended families that don’t see eye to eye on many things?
Clear communication is key! Like Melissa stated, sometimes laying out the schedule in writing can be huge to ensure everyone is on the same page with who is doing what when.
Some additional resources for you
- Be Teachable - Get A Coach
- 5 Tips for Difficult Conversations You Want to Avoid (Episode 82)
- When Routines Are Off And Expectations Are High (Episode 83)
- My Life Sucks – How Can I Get Out Of This?
- Feeling Hopeless?
- What Am I Investing In?
- You May Know What You Want, But THIS is What You NEED (Episode 101)
- What will it take to make you step up and do something about it? (Episode 77)
- What Are Your Non-Negotiables In Your Family? (Episode 73)
- 5 Senses to Break The Cycle of A Negative Mindset (Episode 125)
- 3 Mindset Shifts To Keep You From Hitting A Wall (Episode 124)
- TOXIC RELATIONSHIPS AND WHAT TO DO ABOUT THEM (EPISODE 57)
- 5 Tips for Difficult Conversations You Want to Avoid (Episode 82)
- When Routines Are Off And Expectations Are High (Episode 83)
- Here Come The Holidays…and the Relationship Drama (Episode 27)
Finding Humanity Again
Here is a story from the "Love What Matters" Community:
‘Christmas came just 3 months after my ex’s death. That’s when they showed up. My in-laws. They rallied together to help our broken family make new, magical memories.’: In-laws rally to provide kids a Christmas after woman’s ex-husband’s suicide
“I’m always impressed when families can handle divorce like… adults. Five years ago, my husband and I began our tumultuous journey to divorce. Our kids were 3 and 5 at the time and, as expected, it was an extremely painful time for our family. What happened over the following year was even more devastating than any of us could have prepared for. Not only did our once picture-perfect family move into separate homes and shift to shared parenting time, my husband (the former megachurch pastor) spiraled out on drugs and alcohol. Fast.
It took less than a year before he was pronounced dead. Suicide. Our newly divided family was now irreparably broken. It was an ‘all hands-on deck’ type of tragedy. My family stepped up and filled in while I tried to get my bearings. His family swooped in to shower my kids with love, support, and all the other things that were suddenly (urgently) needed. Life was never going to be the same, and we all jumped in the boat together to figure out how to paddle my kids through this storm.
The thing about tragedy is that it beckons humans to be human. It asks us to soften, let go, and expand. It’s an awful thing, really, but now that I’m on the other side of this suicide, I see things a little more clearly.
My kids will always grieve the loss of their dad, whether it’s actual memories of him or simply the void he left in their lives, they’ll never stop feeling the loss. His family will never be able to fill the hole in their life story now that he’s gone. He should still be here. I will never stop mourning the death of my first love either. He left an undeniable, gaping hole in the world when he took his own life, and I continue to feel that void every day. Those are the facts. This is all a normal part of grieving, and we are all learning how to live with it.
Here’s what’s not so normal about the way it all turned out for my family. Christmas came just three months after his death and to say I had no Christmas spirit was an understatement. I had spent the last 10 years building meticulous, all-encompassing holiday traditions with my late (ex) husband… the thought of hearing a Christmas song made my throat tighten and my skin perspire, never mind digging out all of our seasonal decorations (that HE packed away every year). No, thank you! But what about my kids? They were so young and there was no room for a Grinch Mom. That’s when they showed up. My in-laws. They rallied together and helped our broken, missing-piece-family make new, magical memories.
His parents began flying us out to Florida to visit them over Christmas week. (I mean, I couldn’t handle Christmas trees or wrapping presents, but I could manage to show up for a visit to the beach.) They made cookies, went shopping, planned holiday adventures (that included Disney World), and even took over playing Santa on Christmas Eve. They showed up for my kids when I couldn’t muster the will power and they let me off the hook. My only job was to get on the plane with the kids. They handled every last detail of my kids’ Christmas experience from there.
This will be the third year we head to the coast for Christmas, and finally I see the kind of gift I’ve been given. See, my husband and I had a difficult, if not hostile, divorce. He was angry. I was broken. We were consumed with our loss. The way his parents showed up for my kids after his death was unexpected. I now understand how difficult that could have been for them– having to go through me to maintain a relationship with their grandkids (again, I love it when adults see what really matters is beyond all the discord… the kids). But the way they showed up for me was even more extravagant. There was absolutely no obligation to include, care, and love on the ‘ex-wife’. They could have easily blamed me for their son’s downward spiral into suicide. They could have chosen to hate, curse, and isolate me from their family. But they didn’t.
Not only did they send a lifeline to talk, process, and grieve together, they showered me with unconditional love. They covered costs for anything the kids needed. When we visited, they bought me gifts just like they always had when I was married into the family. They hugged me, asked me how I was doing and how they could help. They let me sleep while they took the kids. They didn’t ask a single thing of me. Ever. I mean, they single-handedly made Christmas happen for my kids for crying out loud!
Divorce can bring out the absolute worst in people, and most of the time it does. I happen to be the benefactor of some of the richest love walking this planet, though. My story played out differently than most. I lost my ex-husband. I’m raising grieving children. My life is forever changed by his death. And I have witnessed some of the greatest acts of humanity I could imagine by some of the most unexpected people–kindness, inclusion, authentic love, loyalty, grace.
The craziest thing is this, all of these things are free.
Christmas means something completely different to me nowadays. My experience with my in-laws after the death of their son has caused me to live with more love and generosity than I would have otherwise. They expanded my ideas of what giving really means. It has changed me forever.
I am learning how to show up for others the way they did for me. I have a lot to learn and practice. That kind of generosity doesn’t always come naturally, but I believe it’s how we were all made to live. Soft. Open. Kind…. Human.”
So remember, a blended family may bring past pains and disconnect, yet it doesn’t have to keep that as the focus. It’s connecting as humans, with all our flaws, and working together to find love and peace, even when the dynamics change.
Your Weekly Challenge:
Our challenge to you this week is, if you are a part of a blended family, to just connect 1-1 with those relationships you want to foster. Maybe that’s your bonus child or even reaching out to an ex to just touch base on how to best support the child caught in the middle. Think about how you can set a precedent of love in your home, no matter what other stories you have to navigate beyond there.
It can be a tricky situation to navigate, so the more grace and love you can show, the more you can focus on those things about each of us that make us all grow. The uniqueness in each of us strengthens all of us. Namaste