When you got married, did you and your spouse spend much time talking about what your blended family foundation would look like? How about what each of your expectations was? Or what kind of stepmom you would be, or how the kids would be expected to relate to you?
My guess is no. We sure didn’t. With all that we discussed in the leadup to our wedding, building our blended family foundation somehow wasn’t on the list.
We talked generally about my level of involvement, and I knew he wanted a true parenting partner. We talked a lot about logistics and practicalities. But we really didn’t drill down on the larger structure that would form our foundation. And what that would look like on a day to day basis.
Why You Need A Strong Blended Family Foundation
Would you buy a car without asking questions about what you might expect for maintenance or what kind of warranty was available? No. Of course not. So why is it that most of us enter into blended family life without having those tough conversations?
Let’s save the why for another time and focus instead on how you can get back to the basics.
Establishing a strong structure is important for all families, but especially so for blended families, which often have a lot more complications and challenging dynamics.
Getting on the same page upfront, before you begin your life together, will start you off on the right foot and can help you avoid a lot of conflict down the road.
The good news is that whether you’re about to get married or you’re a seasoned stepmom, it’s never too late to shore up your blended family foundation.
I’ve put together a few ways to do just that. And a FREE Blended Family Foundations Workbook to help guide you as you work through these discussions with your partner.
Stepmom Mission Statement
I’m guessing you probably didn’t develop a stepmom mission statement before you got married. Yeah, me either.
But you should. Because it will help you focus on your needs, your priorities, and the kind of stepmom you want to be.
Before you talk to your partner about what their expectations are or think about how you can solidify your family, you need to be clear on your goals and needs.
If you need help thinking this through, we’ve got a great tool in our Stepmom Starter Kit that will help you develop an intentional and flexible mission statement that you can use for years to come.
Discuss The Important Issues With Your Partner
What did you picture life would be like when you thought about forming a family with your partner? What were their expectations?
If you’re having significant conflict, it could be that you’re each working with a different set of assumptions about how things would be. That’s okay. And it can be addressed. If you discover it.
If you find you have different expectations, discuss them, and look for agreements where you can. For example, if they figured that you would always do the dishes, but you assumed that it would be part of the kids’ chores, you’ll absolutely have some conflict. They’ll be irritated that you seem to never want to do them and you’ll insist that it should be the kids’ responsibility.
But if you can agree that you were working off of totally different assumptions, you can find some middle ground that works for both of you – and the family as a whole. Perhaps the middle ground is that family members alternate the dishwashing duties each night. Or that it becomes part of the kids’ chores. Whatever the solution is, you will have reached it together. And minimized future conflict, thus adding to your family foundation.
When you were getting ready to marry, you probably discussed the logistics of your role. Whether you would attend sporting events or pick kids up from school. But did you discuss your role at a deeper level?
If not, do so now. Because if you don’t understand or if you disagree about what your role is/should be, it can lead to misunderstandings. And potentially serious conflict.
Need some help clarifying your role? Download our FREE WORKBOOK HERE for a roadmap for these conversations.
Does your spouse want you to be a parenting partner? And what does that look like? Does it mean you taking kids to medical appointments that might require you to learn their medical histories? If your partner will be out of town or unavailable at times, do you need to think about getting a power of attorney or some other permission to access the kids’ health care information as a non-biological parent? Does being a parenting partner mean sharing in the disciplinary duties – and if so, what does that look like?
Or does your spouse want to do the majority of the parenting with you serving mainly as a sounding board or support system?
Do you want to be a parenting partner? Or would you rather be more hands-off? There’s no wrong answer here. It all depends on your family dynamics and needs. If you differ with your spouse on what your role should be, discuss it and look for some common ground.
Your Relationship With The Kids
How do you envision your relationship with the kids in the long term? As a friend or as a parental figure? Will you be taking time to bond with them individually and perhaps do some activities without your husband present?
Or will you have a more “arms-length” relationship? Courteous but not super close. There’s not a right or wrong answer; it really depends on the particulars of each family’s unique situation.
Thinking about how you’ll relate with the kids also includes how the kids will treat you. Regardless of what your relationship goals with them are, you are entitled to be treated with respect and courtesy, just like they would treat other adults. Period.
Once you can agree on what acceptable behavior towards you looks like, then if the kids start to disrespect you or target you, you and your partner can quickly get on the same page as to how to handle it.
How Can You Support Each Other
This is a big one. I hear from clients often that they don’t feel supported by their spouses. Is it because they’ve chosen poorly or they’ve ended up with a jerk? Possibly. But more likely is that their spouse simply doesn’t know what makes them feel supported.
Don’t forget to download your FREE WORKBOOK HERE to give you a roadmap to help you have these conversations.
So talk about it on the front end. For example, if a child asks you if they can have a friend spend the night, will you have the ability to make that decision? If so, your partner needs to back you up – at least in front of the child. Always in front of the child. Any disagreement with your decision should be discussed in private. Period.
Discuss with your spouse what support looks like and how you need to feel supported. Is it agreeing to some boundaries where the ex is concerned? Perhaps it’s wanting you to take self-care time by occasionally going for a pedicure.
Now, to be clear, they might not recognize immediately that not only would you want some space for self-care but that quite often you would need a little time away. You should feel comfortable asking for some time. And your partner should feel comfortable with you taking it.
Feeling supported could also look like a more subtle demonstration in front of the kids that you’re part of the family, too – like establishing a family tradition together.
And listen to what your partner needs to feel supported, too. Do they feel like they need you to engage when there’s a spat with the ex or would they rather you take a step back? Maybe it’s letting them vent about the ex and help to find a way forward.
Whatever the needs are, you should both make an effort to ensure they’re being met.
P.S. If you’re struggling with your blended family foundation, you should also check out our Stepmom Starter System here.