Meet your ex-in-law: Part 2 Dealing with the challenges

In my last blog post we discussed the new member of your step-family, your ex-in-law. We saw how he/she is a big part of your family whether you like it or not and got into the most common issues and sources of conflict in your family due to this dynamic. If you missed it you can check it out HERE.

Today we will go through how you deal with these challenges, avoid unnecessary conflict and confidently deal with the ones that do materialize

Loyalty Declaration

Your partner needs to communicate your presence and relationship to both his ex and the children. He/she needs to let them know they have a new partner (the step-mom or step-dad) who is now going to be a member of the family. This should be done early enough during dating when the couple determines the permanency of their relationship. This gives everyone ample time to adjust the change slowly and at their own pace in all aspects of step-family life like the emotional, physical, spiritual, financial, legal changes involved. It also goes a long long in giving the step-mom/step-dad that first credibility before they form their own relationships with the existing family

No Threat Message

This is probably the single most effective way to avoid unnecessary conflict. The no threat message says to the biological parent that you realize you are not their children’s biological parent and neither are you trying to replace them. The earlier this is communicated verbally, in writing and with actions the better for all family members. This is especially true for the biological parent and their children.  For the children this will give them the freedom to love everyone without feeling like they are betraying their biological parent. Small gestures can go a long way to communicating this to children. For example, letting the children make phone calls to their parents, freedom to visit their parents, not badmouthing their parents in their presence

You are not moms/dads replacement

Its important to realize that you are not the replacement for the children’s mom or dad. The role of the step-parent is usually very ambiguous and confusing if one is not well educated on the step-family dynamics. Very many fall into the trap of staging a hostile take over forcing everyone to recognize and respect their position and authority. This approach will always backfire. Give yourself time to bond with the children and slowly you will earn their respect and they will look up to you as an authority. During this time your partner should take the lead role in the parenting aspects. Its also important that they discuss with the children minimum standards of respect for you the step-parent. The love will take time to form and patience is key

Couple Strength

This is extremely important for any step-family. The dynamics of this family presents a lot of challenges and if the couple is unable to present a united front, the challenges can escalated to levels that increase the stress and strain in the marriage. Discuss issues respectfully with each another and agree on resolution with each partner working on their contribution. Talk about the ex and the challenges you are struggling with and together with your partner agree on the best approach to overcome them for a stronger family. This also applies to any other challenges that will come your way

Be open to learning

Finally the secret to success of step-families is getting smart about step-family life. Getting smart means learning all you can about step-family dynamics, how step-families function, operate best, and why they have the unique challenges that they do. This will help you make informed decisions not just based on your emotions/feelings. Adopt the attitude of a learner.

Have a great week!

Meet your ex-in-law

One of the most common sources of conflict in step-families is the ex-spouse. An ex-wife, ex-husband, ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend always make the blood of a step-parent boil and their hearts bpm go from 62 to 162. For starters the thought that your partner would have chosen that ex and you in the same lifetime is unfathomable because you are just waaaaaaaaaaaay to different right? Yet here you are now in a situation where you are in each others lives whether you like it or not. No one really has a choice here simply because some DNA combined and formed tiny little humans and that is a lifetime connection.  Step-moms are especially most affected by this. Simply because they are up against ‘mom’. No one goes head to head against ‘mom’ and expects to win. Mom has trophies and mugs declaring she is the best in the world, she is thanked daily and is told just how much she means. Heck! there is a whole day every year dedicated just to her and all the wonderful things she has done in her children’s lives and in turn her country and the world. Songs have been sung for and about her. For step-moms who make it happen for their stepchildren day in day out with little or no recognition at all this can be a bit too much to bear especially if mom isn’t all that and a bag of chips in the parenting department.

Meet your ex-in-law. The only reason I call them in-law is because just like your in-laws they are a part of your family whether you like it or not, whether you love them or not. I can already see you cringing at the thought. I also struggled with it but honestly speaking, they are not going anywhere especially if they are actively involved in their children’s lives. As a step-parent the sooner you accept this the better for you. Its the first step towards the having healthy relationships with all those in your step-family.

Having an ex-in-law presents quite a number of challenges for the step-parent. In this 3 part article I will take you through the most common challenges and sources of conflict and how you can overcome them. So lets have a look at the common complaints

Badmouthing

This is the number one complaint for stepparents and more so step-moms. Basically this is the bio parent speaking ill of the step-parent in the presence of the children and vice versa. This is not healthy and all it does is create a rift in your family relations. A step-parent who badmouths a biological parent is setting themselves up for serious failure with regard to their relationship with the children. Essentially what they are doing is creating a loyalty competition from the children which a match lost before it even begins. Children will always side with mom and dad when they feel pressured to choose.

We all have opinions of the ex-in-law some good, some bad and some just down right ugly but there are other ways to sort out issues which are negatively affecting the family. Use these channels and leave the kids out of it.

Controlling through the children

Women have for a long time used their children to get what they wanted either for themselves or for their children. Not the best show of parenting skills but it happens. Am reminded of the story of Rebecca in the Bible and how she helped Jacob get the brothers inheritance by duping Isaac. Not cool…. not cool at all. Things are no different today. Some women use their children to get money to finance their lifestyles and push whatever agenda they want. They use their children to spy on the activities of the other home to see how they can sabotage or cash in on different situations. This creates a lot of mistrust and conflict in the step-family with the step-parents bearing the brunt of it all

Money

Studies have shown that one of the leading causes of divorce and conflict in marriage is money. If you think its difficult in a family where you are all blood, try handling finances in a step-family. Its like playing minesweeper. One click and boom! major conflict. When you combine his, mine and ours babies needs in a budget then the fireworks really start to spark. Now if there is no structure for all players to adhere to then everyone is always fighting for what they think is right for them or their children, easily forgetting that they are a family.

Lifestyle differences and income disparities between the bio and step-parents homes is also a source of conflict and if not managed well will only make the family break apart.

Insecurity

Everyone is anxious about themselves. The step-mom feels like an outsider who is unappreciated for all her efforts and is sidelined, the step-dad feels like he not king in his castle. He makes it happen for his wife and her kids but none of them recognize this. Bio mom feels like her position is threatened and will be snatched from her while bio dad if not stressed by trying to make everything right for his wife and children, is threatened by the man who is raising his children. Every player has their own fears. As humans fear presents only one option of us. To fight. Get them before they get me, attack them before they attack me. This may sound like good advice by soldiers on a battle field but these words are worrying in a family setting and if acted upon will only spell doom for everyone.

So how do you deal with the challenges? Find out in part 2 of ‘Meet your ex-in-law’