We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak. -Epictetus
Good communication is a challenge for every family.
For those dealing with blended family issues, communication is even more vital. Children are usually living in multiple households and relationships between exes sometimes sour. What’s the best way to communicate in situations like those?
Here are some tips to help open the lines of communication with the ex, your new spouse and your step children.
With the ex
Put aside your differences for the kids’ sake. Divorce is incredibly heartbreaking and emotional. Many people don’t have a good relationship with their ex and find their parenting styles are very different.
If you find it impossible to talk on the phone without fighting, try texting or emailing. Keep messages simple to avoid emotional entanglement. No matter how difficult or “bad” you think your spouse is, that person plays an important role in your children’s life. Your kids will be happier if everyone communicates and stays on the same page.
Don’t use kids as messengers. They have no business discussing issues like placement, child support or parenting styles with either parent. Work mightily to keep them out of the middle.
With each other
Discuss your parenting styles (but not in front of the kids). Talk about how you’ll handle the children’s discipline, privileges and expectations around the house. If there are areas you disagree, work them out in advance so the kids aren’t confused later on.
Use written communication. Write notes on a dry erase board and send each other text messages to keep the parenting team well-informed.
Steal 15 minutes each day to talk. The chaos of family life can feel like a whirlwind. Touch base with each other every day to avoid miscommunication. This is especially helpful when one parent spends more time at home with the kids than the other.
With the step children
Demonstrate good communication habits yourself. When they talk, listen. Look them in the eye. If there is an important issue to discuss, turn off distractions like the TV or computer.
Repeat important requests or feelings back to them. This gives you both a chance to be sure you completely understand what was said.
Don’t force communication in the heat of the moment. Wait until after the storm has passed to address a concern. If you are arguing, ask for a break until things calm down. Go outside or to your own rooms. You don’t have to solve every problem as soon as it arises. Catch your breath, first.
Write a letter. When parents talk, kids get bored. If you have something on your heart about a misunderstanding or difficult issue, write your stepchild a letter. I’ve used this method to define my role with my step daughter during a difficult time we were having. The letter was much more well-received than a talk would have been. Be honest, kind and keep it simple.
Subtly get their attention. Something as simple as placing your hand on their shoulder or elbow when you have something important to say can help them focus on the message.
Good communication is one key to happiness within a blended family. No one likes to be left in the dark when it comes to their children or family life. Strive to communicate with an open mind, open ears and love in your heart, always.
How do you communicate within your blended family?