On a recent trip across the country from Cali to Knoxville our flight was inconveniently cancelled (I will avoid Delta at all costs in the future). It occurred to me that being a step-parent in a blended family is much like taking a flight. You take a chance that all will go smoothly, and yet, inevitably there are always hassles when you fly. Some big. Some small. I suppose that can apply to every kind of family but what’s unique to blended families and airlines are their rules that they know and you don’t, which lead to frustrations and disappointments.
Even if you do your airline homework, it’s impossible to know every rule of every airline and they certainly aren’t going to go out of their way to help you beat their system by telling you all the rules (you are not part of the inside-club). This seems remarkably similar to a step-parent joining a blended family.
The rules were created and tweaked as the family grew and the inner workings are so obvious to the bio-parent and bio-kids that no one bothers to tell the step-parent how things work. Step-parents are not part of the inside-club…yet. That’s not due to any bad intentions on their part (or maybe it is) but more because the bio-family doesn’t need to think about how their family runs since they are used to working together.
This leaves the step-parent accidentally crossing all sorts of unseen boundaries and making many mistakes the bio-family knows not to make because they made them years before. Like flying, you join their world for the time that you’re with them and you can assert your will to a point and then the majority rules take over.
Don’t lose hope though. As the blended family integrates, and gets used to each other, then respect and trust develops (usually taking about six years for a decent cozy comfort level). When this occurs more thoughtfulness also develops and the rules blend more effectively. Simply, a step-parent becomes more and more a part of the family and understands the unwritten rules and the bio-family learns to give way to rules that are old and need to change. Less hassle, less hurt feelings. (Don’t we wish the airlines would be so blend-albe?)
That’s the difference between airline rules and blended family rules. Airline rules work only for the airlines and not the passengers, blended family rules may start out only working for the bio-family and not the step-parent but over time they mold and change to fit the blended family needs. Just as divorced couples have different house rules at each home a child needs to learn, a blended family creates its own set of rules that is different from the original bio-family rules. After all, they are two separate households even though the bio-family may feel like they should have more sway or say.
The end point — when you don’t know the rules you can’t be expected to follow them, right? Weirdly, wrong. Inside a blended family you are expected to follow them just as you’re expected to follow the airline rules you don’t know. What can be done to help?
- Spring clean your family rules. Sit down with the family and talk about whats working and what isn’t. Getting everyone involved in shaping new rules for the blended family creates a “buy-in” and each person will be more likely to want to follow them since they had input.
- Ask questions and double check plans. Start with gently reminding everyone (big and small) to ask questions and double check their plans with all blended family members (whether they want to or not) before making them or changing them. Last minute schedule changes for teens are common and yet very frustrating for the step-parent acing as the family taxi service.
2) Raise the level of respect. Have family members act as if their step-parent or step-child is their bio-parent or bio-kid when communicating. This may feel difficult but will lessen difficulties overall and help develop working friendships between the blended family members (note: you don’t actually have to feel the way you’re acting, and you don’t have to act-out your feelings, you can simply notice them and then rise above them to make better behavioral choices that will help a situation).
3) Be Decisive and anticipate potential issues. The problem with the airlines is they never know anything until after it happens. They cancel flight sections, airplanes are packed, weather or a computer glitch takes down the system and everyone is stranded because no one thought to put flight crews or aircraft on stand-by in anticipation of potential problems. If parenting partners would take 10 minutes and trouble shoot the what-ifs of situations and make a game plan for handling changes it will help keep the difficulties lower. Example: bio-kids call bio-parent at work with a change of plans. Bio-parent okays the plans without even thinking about any potential affects the change might have because they are used to operating as the sole parent. A general rule: Bio-parent tells kids they will answer once the change has been run-by the step-parent. It takes longer and is more effort but in the long run you’ll save yourself resentful feelings and creating family drama.
4) Be nice. I cannot stress enough how going out of your way to be talkative and pleasant (as we do for strangers) will help create more harmony inside your blended family
Communicating well with an airline isn’t possible unless you’re in the league of owning a private jet, however; you don’t have to fly blind in your blended family. No one has to be perfect, but being considerate and a spring-clean the family rules to keep them updated and fair can make blended family life soar more smoothly.