Healthy Communication in a Blended Family
Define Your Communication Style Mix
Communicating well is a challenge for all of us, but it would seem as if a blended family would have even more challenges then most when it comes to communicating well.
Why is this?
Blending a family is more than just two people getting together who happen to have some kids. There are pre-existing family dynamics, personalities and differing communication skills that must now suddenly “blend.”
This blending can either be a harmonious occurrence, such as what you get when you blend together ingredients for a smoothie. Or, it can look like what happens when you leave the lid off of the blender: you are wiping the results off the walls and ceiling.
There are various levels of communication issues that can occur in a stepfamily. For one, children may feel torn between their natural parents—and not sure what to make of the new arrangement with the stepparent. Some will respond by being vocal, while others may hide how they’re feeling, fearful of rocking the boat. This becomes a communication issue, when either nothing is being communicated, or a child is lashing out as a means of expression.
Then, there is the parent and the stepparent and their way of communicating with kids. Maybe mom’s style of parenting has been to allow her child to debate every decision with her, while stepdad’s style is more “what I say goes.” This can cause a communication issue between the couple because of differing communication styles in the parental role.
Stepfamilies aren’t unique in having communication issues. They simply have a more unique situation than what is traditional. But think of traditional families: how many do you know that have perfect communication skills? There’s a reason many people dread the holidays—communication can either be the “special sauce” or the meal that goes down in flames.
Communication takes ongoing effort, and for a blended family, it needs to start from the top. If you are preparing for remarriage now, consider going to some form of pre-marital counseling so that you can learn more about what to expect after the “I do.” One thing that is beneficial to uncover are the expectations each of you has for how you will communicate with each other, with the kids, and what is acceptable and unacceptable when communicating.
If you’re already remarried, it’s not too late to have this discussion—and set some guidelines. It can be as simple as: “We as a family will always be open and honest with each other about what we are thinking and feeling, as long as we communicate it in a respectful tone.” Or, you and your partner may decide that how you have always communicated with your natural children is the way you will continue, and the stepparent will not interfere.
Communication works best when people take the time to actually sit down and discuss their thoughts and feelings on various topics and issues. And it’s more helpful to do so before there’s a major problem or blow-up. However, even a blow-up can become a learning experience when you work together to do better next time.
As a blended family, you are not at a disadvantage when it comes to communication. In fact, blending those different styles may make you a stronger unit, as you learn to navigate different ways of communicating with people who have a different style than you—a skill that will extend into the world at large.
Does your blended family have any communication issues with which you’re currently struggling, or have in the past?
If so, what have you tried to do in order to resolve them? Has it worked?Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section.