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Team Family: Working Together When You Live Apart

The back-and-forth routine that accompanies many children with a mom and dad in different homes often brings exhaustion. For kids, it can create confusion, anxiety and turmoil. Our children need a stable home environment, free of tension and chaos, to develop a healthy self-image and succeed in school. If you spend any time at your child’s school, particularly middle and high schools, you’ll notice the pressure and demands they face. Minefields at home only create more stress.

As parents and step-parents, what can we do to enable healthy interactions and positive self-esteem? One of the best ways to promote success is to commit to do your part in maintaining a friendly relationship with your ex.

I know, you’d rather eat a cockroach than talk about how to live in harmony with your ex or your spouse’s ex, but it’s vital to the well-being of your children and step-children to maintain an amicable relationship. That doesn’t mean you have to be best friends with your ex-husband, or your step-son’s mom, but you do have to commit to being cordial with them.

I will be the first to admit this hasn’t come naturally. I maintained a contentious relationship with my ex-husband for too long after our divorce. Although I tried hard to not speak badly of him to our girls, I’m sure they could sense my disapproval of his lifestyle and critical spirit toward him when we negotiated visitation. It’s important to remember that our children are half of their other parent and when we speak badly of that parent, they turn the negative remarks inward, leading to a negative self-image.

As your children move between homes, help them learn responsibility by reminding them to stop and think about what they need to pack when they leave one home and move to the other. As a step-family coach, I often hear step-parents complain about their step-kids making multiple trips to their house on the off week because they left supplies, a project, a uniform, etc. Don’t enable irresponsibility by allowing them to return multiple times for items they forgot.

As a step-parent, recognize the adjustment your step-children go through when they travel between homes. Allow extra time on transition days for kids to settle in, focus and adjust to the routine of your home. Give them space if you sense they’re struggling emotionally.

Don’t maintain an overly ambitious schedule on weeks your step-children are there. Allow time to help with homework, run kids to ball practice or sit down for a home-cooked meal. Step-family relationships are strengthened as family members spend time together in a relaxed environment.

Also, consider what it feels like to a biological parent to have someone else take part in raising their child. And be sensitive to how your step-children feel toward you and whether they want you at every function or whether you should bow out and let the biological parents take the lead.

As a mom and step-mom to five children, I understand the challenges that accompany kids moving between homes. My husband and I spent years negotiating schedules and seeking to provide a safe environment in which our kids could thrive.

My step-children and two of my biological children have now completed school and exited the nest, leaving my husband and I with only an ‘ours’ child left at home. Some days I consider what I would do differently if all of our kids were at home again.

I think I would offer a softer side toward my step-children when they’ve had a bad day at school. I’d be more understanding on transition days when they’ve just come back from their mom’s house and need time alone. I’d extend grace more freely when my own kids didn’t do their chores to my satisfaction. And I would insist on fewer extracurricular activities to allow more time at home for relationships to grow and bond.

Our childrearing season passes quickly and we’re left with fond memories. Seek to enjoy the hassles! Step back, take a deep breath and snap a few pictures of your growing child. Then consider what you can do to sow peace with those around you. Will you commit to take the high road as often as possible? Will you do your part to co-parent in harmony?
Yes, it’s harder when kids move between homes, but it’s not impossible to find peace.

Seven tips to help:

1. Don’t meddle in the affairs of the other home.

2. Maintain a cooperative and flexible attitude with your ex when discussing the kids’ schedules.

3. Keep conflict with your ex-spouse away from the ears of your children.

4. Encourage your children to be responsible with their belongings.

5. As a step-parent, offer grace and understanding to your step-children.

6. Consider the needs of your children and step-children as they transition.

7. Commit to a new tomorrow when you fail.

Gayla is an author and step-family coach with a his, hers and ours family. She loves helping non-traditional families learn to thrive in their relationships.

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