Blending families is not an easy task with children. It will take time and patience as well as lots of love. I learned lessons from when I remarried and from my children years later. Here are the top five tips that I learned while working on blending two families into one.

  • Communicate. Each child will have his or her own attitude about the new family. Consider the age and relationships that have been built prior to living together as one under one roof. Ask your children individually what sacrifices the child expects to be made during the initial months and by whom. If you need to consolidate two households’ belongings have a family meeting to clearly discuss what is expected; what can be kept; what must be discard, sold, or donated; and what will replaced with new. Talk with your ex-spouse about any expectations and try to reach an agreement for the children calling the new parent “Mom” or “Dad.” This early conversation can minimize any hurt feelings, when the children start referring to the new stepparent as “Mom” or “Dad.” If both of you agree that the children should not refer to new parent as “Mom” or “Dad,” then share that information with everyone. Discuss your expectations surrounding discipline by the stepparent. While you are having this conversation, this would be the time to discuss what each of you expect the new parent’s role to be when it comes to making decisions for the children.
  • Allow the children to decide. When it comes to stepparents, each child will have their own pace on accepting the new parent. Allow the child to move at his or her own pace. Do not force any names that the child is not comfortable with. Remember the children already have a mother and father that the children love and have bonded with. Do not be hurt if your child does not love your new spouse as much as you do. This is someone you choose to start the next chapter of your life with. Do not allow your children’s cautious affections toward a new parent to determine how you feel. I learned that the older the children are, they may never decide to develop a parent-child relationship with you as the new parent but may embrace one of friendship.
  • Insist on respect. This would apply to all family members. Everyone needs to show one another respect. Respect in privacy, boundaries, and time frames. If you are the stepparent, it may be important to the older child that you ask if it is alright for you attend something that a parent typically attends. Insist that while your children may not feel the same as you do about your new spouse that the children always show respect.
  • Limit your expectations. Do not set a time frame for how quickly your children will warm up. For some, it will be quick, and others will take a while. Your blended family is not the Brady Bunch. Do not expect that the parenting styles will mesh easily. When I remarried, we had different expectations on parenting the children. I expected that I would continue my parenting style since only my children were at home and he expected that I would adopt his ways. This would have been easier if we had followed the first tip and communicated well in advance.
  • Make new family traditions together. This is important around the holidays. Each family will have traditions and blending those traditions into new ones will be important. When I was blending families, we had a tradition of opening one present on Christmas Eve. But as holidays are shared, this may not always be possible. Communicate with the children and have family councils to determine what the new traditions for the blended family will look like.

When you give everyone an opportunity to voice his or her concerns, fears, or expectations, then work together to find common ground everyone will have felt like they were heard and valued as a member of the new family. Just like marriage, a blended family takes work. The only difference is now that there are more than two people working on the process of blending two separate families into one.

Because I have heard of many issues surrounding communicating between parties, I want to share with everyone some tips on how to communicate with the other parent. In the past 11 and a half years of practice, the one thing that I have seen predominantly across all divorces with children is a problem in communication between the parents. Let us face it, there is a reason people get divorced. There is a reason one of the parties filed first, or maybe both parties came to the agreement that this marriage is not working, and the best thing is to end the marriage. That decision was communicated to the other parent.

But during the divorce even when the parties agree it is what they need to do, there is one thing that I see commonly. There are raw emotions going on. Someone feels wronged. Someone feels hurt. Someone feels like he or she is about to lose everything. Communicating properly can really go a long way for setting what the rest of parent’s life with the children will look like and I’m talking to the rest of both parents’ life, not until the children turn the age of eighteen or not until the children graduate from high school.

Let us face it, parents are going to be at weddings together. Parents are going to be at the high school and college graduations together. Perhaps, parents will be attending graduate school graduations. Parents do not want their children having to go through life figuring out, especially on their wedding day.  Especially if we are talking about a daughter, she does not want to be asking, “Where do I sit my mom? And where do I sit my dad because they do not like each other, and I do not want to deal with the drama.” It is a wedding day and it should be all about the bride. That that is her big day. Loving parents do not want that to be something that overshadows their daughter’s special day. So, it is key to learn how to communicate.

I am going to share with you on every Tuesday a tip on how to communicate that I have learned, either through my own divorce, watching my parents get divorced and handle life afterward the judgment entered, or what I have learned from helping my clients navigate to what it looks like in a post-divorce world. So, the first tip I want to share with all of you is find a method to communicate that works well.

If you have a high conflict divorce, one where the two of you just cannot talk without it turning into a fight. Picking up the phone and calling is probably not your preferred method. Perhaps what you need to do is use text or emails, or even use some an app or program that will help you communicate, so you do not have to talk directly to one another. Understand just because you are co-parenting, does not mean you need to speak in person, or on the telephone to each other. You can send an email, you can send a text, but if both of you have a hard time controlling your emotions on that think about using a program like Our Family Wizard.

Our Family Wizard has been out for as long as I have been practicing law. It is a program designed to help you co parent and communicate. It has a new feature out called ToneMeter. Now, ToneMeter is a new feature on Our Family Wizard.  I have recently seen it in the last few years as a feature in their program. What it does is help parents re-evaluate the tone of the conversation before hitting send. It allows parents to evaluate what is the tone of the message?  When someone is writing in all caps, it means that the person is yelling. So, turn off the caps lock. Learn how to use proper punctuation. Write everything in complete sentences and paragraphs as if you were writing a letter to the judge. It is not helpful to write everything in one big block of text without breaks and commas and punctuation and paragraphs. A lack of proper sentence and paragraph structure makes it difficult to understand the thought process. It is basic communication. When writing something to the other parent, put each thought into a separate paragraph. Use punctuation. Take the time before hitting send to re-read the message. Does it sound and communicate the tone that is not hostile? If so, hit send. If not, maybe let it sit. There is no rule that says a message must immediately be replied to when the other parent is first to communicate. Silence is acceptable and delays are not bad.

I’ve known clients who have a “three rule.” They will tell the other parent once thing starts going downhill, especially on the phone, “Ok, I’m going to hang up the phone if you cannot calm down.” The message is repeated three times before they hang up the phone, because they do not want to engage in a fight. Sometimes when on the phone with the other parent, the children will be around or capable of hearing. So, when parents cannot communicate without resulting to a verbal disagreement or fight, it best use something like Our Family Wizard. Many of the available programs have an app that can be downloaded on an iPhone or Android. Look in the App Store or Google Play for a co-parenting app. There are many different program options out there. Some do charge, and some are free.

It is essential for both parties to agree to on how to communicate with one another. The parties should agree which program to use and how will they to use it? Sometimes when I am helping people redesign their family through divorce and I realized that this case is going to be high conflict. I will make the recommendation to them to use one of the available programs. I will present options to the parties, and we will draft that agreement into a judgment or an order so the parties will know what they are supposed to do.

So again, first step with communication is find a method that works to communicate with each conversation becoming a hostile one. Come back next week and I will have another great tip for you on how to communicate. It is possible to have a better life and for the children to feel like they are not caught up in the parents’ adult drama.

This month Melissa Pearce & Associates is starting a new thing. I will be recording some video tips for our clients and prospective clients. On Mondays, I will share some co-parenting tips. The tip for today is very simple: find a way to communicate.

You know you cannot co-parent with that other parent unless you are communicating. There are so many things to communicate you need to communicate from sports schedules to extracurricular activities. Right now, during the virus restrictions is a prime example of the importance of communication between parents. Parents need to communicate like basic things. I had a client who at the beginning of the state’s shut down in March needed to re-work parenting time for the health and safety of the children. This parent works in the front line: the healthcare industry. The client’s job placed the client and the children at a greater risk of being exposed to the virus home. So, the client asked the other parent to rearrange parenting time for the time being. This meant an end temporarily to in-person visits. The client communicated that the primary motivation was preventing the spread of the virus to my children, which is a very loving and caring thing to do. But my client still wanted to have contact with children. So, both parents were able to sit down and work out a schedule amongst themselves, which is a really great thing if you are co-parenting. You do not need the judge, you do not need lawyers, you do not need referees or anyone else to tell you how to co-parent because you know your children best. These two parents were able to sit down and talk about what would work and they came up with a really good video call schedule for their children to maintain contact with the other parent.

If you have young children, around the age of 2, they are not going to sit on the call for a long time. It does not have to be a long time for the video call. However, you may need to do more frequent phone calls, maybe a call in the morning and a call at night. It could just be a quick call to say good night. When talking about quick call to say good night, maybe what you do is set the child up with your iPad to have a video call with the other parent. The child holds the iPad and the other parent is on the call, and they are reading a bedtime story. You can share the pages by holding them up to the camera. It is a great way to spend time with our kids.

So, if you are going to co-parent, you need to learn how to communicate. You do not have to be best friends, but you do need to communicate. You need to communicate things about health, education, extracurricular activities, and daily problems. It can be hard raising kids, especially in those teenage years. Sometimes you just need to say to the other parent, you did this when you were married, “I need a break, maybe it is time you take the child and see if you can help resolve the issue.” Sometimes our kids just need the other parent and we need to be able to communicate that. Simply tell the other parent that you know the child is going through a really hard time and you believe that the child needs some time with the other parent. This is healthy communication. You cannot force the other parent to be on the same page or place that you are at. All you can do is reach out and communicate but if the other parent is not responding that is not your fault. It is not your responsibility. So, keep that in mind.

Remember, my tip for today is learn how to communicate and establish good communication habits with the other parent that does not bring in animosity into your conversations. There are multiple ways to communicate. In fact, come back tomorrow, because on Tuesdays, I will be sharing with you tips on how to communicate effectively with the other parent to minimize conflict in your divorce, and after the divorce is final.

Watch more of our tips on our YouTube Channel.

While divorce ends a legal marital status, it does not end the co-parenting relationship that exists between mothers and fathers. Understanding that your ex-spouse will still be involved in your life when you have children together can be the hardest thing for our clients to grasp. In all other aspects, divorce is about cutting the ties to the ex-spouse. You are dividing property and debt and making one spouse responsible after the entry of the judgment. However, children are not divided by a judgment of divorce and the communication to co-parent the Divorce does not make communicating with the spouse any easier. 

In some cases, one party did not want the divorce, and may have been surprised by the filing. This party is slower to work through their feelings of the end of the relationship. Often times, the feelings bleed into the communication with the other spouse during and after the divorce proceedings. However, there are steps that you can take to keep the communication with your ex-spouse civil and open during and after the divorce proceedings. I have discussed the five most common that I see in my practice. 

First, realize that the relationship is no longer the same. Even if you still love your spouse, she no longer loves you. Keep any thoughts or feelings of love for your ex-spouse to yourself. These thoughts are not appropriate to share. However, if you think your spouse may be open to the idea of reconciliation, recognize that you had a role to play in the breakdown of the marriage. Examine what that role was and if it is possible to repair the damage done in the past to save a marriage. I have seen clients take this action and save their marriage. However, many of them required the assistance of marriage counselor to have a long-lasting impact to their relationship. 

Second, no matter what button your spouse pushes with what he says, do not react with hostility or anger. I have read many emails and text messages where it is clear that feelings of anger are still in play. One wrong word or something read out of context starts a barrage of hateful comments. Your children can read or soon will be reading. If your child found the text messages or emails, would your words demonstrate the type of person you want your children to be? If the answer is no, then sending the quick reply back is ill-advised. There is no requirement to quickly respond to every text or email from an ex-spouse. If his words set you off, have another person read the message. Do they read the same thing you have read? Listen to what they say about the message and then respond using the high road. There is no need to engage in a battle of slinging hurtful things, such as “I will take the kids from you” or “My children will never be with you again.” I have not even mentioned the use of profanity, but just do not use it.  

Third, if you cannot exchange the children without a verbal fight occurring, then agree to exchange the children at a public place halfway between homes. If your children are old enough to walk to the other parent’s home or car, allow them to walk without leaving your car. If you have to get out of the car to help get belongings together for the children, speak only to your children and say how much you love them. Remember to be polite in front of the children. If you cannot speak, just smile. 

Fourth, if your relationship and communication is almost impossible to keep civil, consider using a communication tool. There are many out there from Our Family Wizard to TwoHouses to AppClose. Some of the tools for parents to use charge an annual fee. Others, like AppClose, are free. Several will allow the addition of stepparents, attorneys, or court personnel. Most of the communication tools have additional features such a calendar for sharing schedules and appointments, expense reporting for medical reimbursements or messaging. The use of the communication tool may require a court order that both parties communicate using a particular program as the tools will only work if both parties are using the same one. 

Fifth, give the other parent time to respond. I have seen pages of texts or emails where one party inundates the other’s inbox with messages sent seconds if not minutes apart. This quick fury of messages often indicate that one party cannot wait for the other party to respond. As I read the barrage of messages that had been sent, I see the assumptions and accusations that have been made. As a third party reading the conversation outside of the heat of the moment, I can clearly see which part took the wrong action in the conversation and where it broke down. If I can see it, so will the judge or referee who has been assigned to the case. Text messages and emails sent between two parents can be used in court to prove how one parent is not following the court order. There is no way to prevent them from not being introduced and the words said in the heat of the moment can make a loving parent look controlling or selfish. If what you read makes your blood boil, B-R-E-A-T-H-E. Slow down the conversation and take five deep long breaths. Control your emotions and responses.  

Remember while a divorce ends a legal marital status, it does not end a family. Divorce has changed the way your family lives and interacts. As a parent, it is your job to do what is best for your children. This may include shielding your children from the acrimony that parents have for one another.  If your ex-spouse continues to feed the hostility, contact our office for help.