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Posts tagged ‘finding balance’

Blended Family Issues: Holiday Power Plays

SOURCE:  Ron L. Deal/Family Life

Between the joy and hope of the holiday season, some stepfamilies find themselves in frustrating power plays between homes.

“Because he is on edge and doesn’t want to deal with his ex-wife, he procrastinates in finding out details about the schedule,” Connie complained about her husband. “This causes tension between us when I ask what the plans are. If he has not spoken to her yet, he gets defensive and mad at me. We are always tip-toeing around each other, wondering if the next event will blow up like others have.”

Connie and her husband had fallen prey to the classic unresolved conflict between him and his ex-wife. The more he avoided dealing with his ex, the more the tension escalated between Connie and her husband.

Hidden struggles

It’s not uncommon for special family gatherings and the holidays to erupt hidden power struggles between ex-spouses. Issues that normally can be avoided in the regular routine of life are often not put aside when extra coordination and cooperation is demanded. Even former spouses that typically get along fairly well may burst into conflict during the season of hope.

Some common emotions and power plays that parents and stepparents may experience include:

  • Aggravation when waiting for the other home to decide their holiday schedule.
  • Annoyance when someone changes plans at the last minute.
  • Frustration over the biological parent who refuses to abide by the visitation schedule that was established in the divorce agreement.
  • Stress over grandparents who refuse to cooperate with the boundaries you set.
  • Sadness when the ever-present memory of a deceased parent is so highly honored that new traditions, meals, or decorations cannot be incorporated into your family traditions.
  • Anger when extended family members voice their disapproval of the stepfamily to the children during family get-togethers.

These dynamics can make anyone feel helpless and weary. Here are a few smart steps to help curb the conflict and tension.

First, pay attention to the stress and ask yourself what fears you have that may be fueling your reactions. Then talk with your spouse openly and discuss the situation in a calm manner. For example, after admitting to herself how difficult it is to respect her husband when he avoids his ex-wife, Connie might approach her husband calmly. “Honey, I know that talking to your ex-wife about holiday schedules is very stressful for you. I’m also aware that when I ask you what the plans are, it sounds as if I’m judging you for not talking to her. I certainly don’t mean to judge you or make you feel pressured. How can I best support you?”

Stepparents in this situation are sometimes tempted to take on all the responsibility for bridging the power plays between ex-spouses (“I’ll talk to her for you.”). This is a dangerous position to be in.

Sometimes stepparents can communicate with the other home more easily, but they should not take on too much responsibility. If they do, the tension that exists between exes will likely shift onto the stepparent’s lap. Instead, work out a plan together for how the biological parent will manage themselves as they contact the other home to work through details.

Second, choose “between-home battles” carefully. Whenever possible, attempt to live in peace with the other home. This will require making sacrifices so the children don’t have to deal with warring parents. This may seem unfair if your family is making all of the concessions, but this is one reality of a stepfamily.

On occasion, however, there are battles which need to be engaged. The difficulty is learning when to deal with the issue and when to let it go. For example, if the other home normally is flexible about the holiday schedule, but for some reason this year is unwilling to bend, then let it go. But if he or she has a pattern of repeatedly ignoring the divorce arrangement, refusing to allow visitation, or if they control the children’s time, that’s probably a boundary worth battling. That parent is being unreasonable and hurting the kids.

Accommodating their antics gives them more power and increases resentment within your home.

When holiday power plays begin, strive to stay on the same side with your spouse. The natural flow of stress, even if it is initially related to those living in the other home, is to ripple into your marriage. Couples must be diligent to guard and protect their relationships from this dynamic. Talking calmly with one another, not out of fear but confidence, lays the groundwork for moving through such stressful situations.

20 Ideas for Busy Parents

SOURCE:   Mary May Larmoyeux/Family Life

Dan had two teenage sons playing baseball on two different teams … and they were in the middle of tournaments. Need I say more?

“Sometimes I wonder if we’re doing the right thing,” he said, adding that both boys had been chosen for all-star teams. He and his wife wanted to help their kids develop their God-given talents, but at what cost to the family?

It’s never been easy to be a parent. And with today’s endless activities, sometimes families find little time to actually be at home. I asked some friends how they attempt to bring balance to the hectic pace of life. Here are some of their tips for busy parents:

1. As you choose activities, put God first. Consider the spiritual impact that activities could have on the family. Are there Sunday ballgames or Wednesday night practices that will interfere with your church services?

2.  Protect your marriage in the busyness of life.  Does your spouse feel like you spend more focused time with the kids than you do with him/her? Could this be relieved by carpooling or limiting the children’s involvement on various sports teams or school clubs? Have you reserved special time for just you and your spouse?

3. Pray about activities. One dad said, “Making choices for our kids requires an enormous amount of prayer … for wisdom and discernment, and an enormous amount of courage as choices made often require standing against the tide.”

4. Remember that your primary God-given responsibility as a parent is to point your children to Jesus Christ and to help them grow in their faith and love for the Lord (Deuteronomy 6:1-9; John 8:31). Is there enough time in your schedule for the family to study God’s Word together and to discuss spiritual issues?

5. Focus on key activities that are important to you and your children. This will result in saying “no” to some good things to have time for what you feel is best for each child.

6. Don’t expect your children to appreciate the sacrifices that you make to help them develop their abilities. Most children won’t understand this until they have children of their own.  One stepmom added, “Give time, energy, and love to stepchildren without the expectation of the child automatically responding with love.”

7. Compare calendars with your spouse on a regular basis. Doing this will help you identify a stuffed schedule. One friend said to include these questions: “Are we overloaded? Do we need to say ‘no’ to new opportunities or cancel lower priority commitments?”

8. Schedule regular family meetings so everyone is aware of all of the activities and no one feels left out.

9. Organize family work efforts. Example:  “Let’s all clean the house” or “Let’s get the yard work done.” One dad said, “Too often parents are doing the household chores and the kids are playing video games. Kids need chores … they can make major contributions to the operation of a household.”

10. Teach the kids how to do their own laundry (on an age-appropriate basis). Children in on-the-go families can be a big help by washing their own sheets, sorting their dirty clothes, folding their clean clothes, matching socks, etc.

11. Schedule a date night at home once a week with your spouse. For example, purchase a favorite dessert from a nearby bakery or restaurant. When the kids go to bed, enjoy it with your spouse and talk about the high and low points of your week.

12. Plan margin in your calendar—time that is not allocated to anything. One friend said, “We have had opportunities to help neighbors or bring a meal to someone in need. Many of those things wouldn’t happen if our schedule were jam-packed.”

13. Take time to laugh as a family and enjoy being together. Keep a joke book in the car and have the kids share jokes when driving to various activities.

14. When time to cook a meal will be limited because of activities, use a slow cooker. You will know that a healthy meal is cooking at home while you are on the ball field or carpooling kids to piano lessons or band practice.

15.  Cook in large batches and freeze meals ahead of time to use on busy days (remember to date the containers).

16. Choose one night a week (example: “Terrific Thursday”) for special family activities. Go out for ice cream together, play a board game, watch a movie, etc.

17. If you have a dog, ask your spouse or a child to walk the dog with you. Doing this helps slow down the pace of a busy routine and provides time for good conversations.

18. Get involved in things as an entire family instead of doing countless individual activities. One mom said, “We serve together at church or all attend discipleship groups on the same evening, so we are not shuttling on different nights.”

19. Get enough rest and reserve time for yourself in the family schedule.

20. Create one-on-one time for each child to do something fun with just Mom, and also special time for each child to be with just Dad.

Today’s parents are raising their children in a world that offers nonstop opportunities. Too often “balance” seems to be an elusive dream.  But with God’s help and determination, busy parents like Dan can learn to control their schedules … so their schedules won’t control them.

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