My husband and I have been married for a couple of years. This is our second marriage, and we both have children from our first marriages. We love each other but have very different parenting styles, and we often find ourselves and our children in conflict. We don't want this to ruin another marriage - what can you suggest?
That is an excellent question, but before I answer it, I'd like to emphasize one very important point: different parenting styles are not exclusive to blended families and their children. As a matter of fact, they afflict most parents, and there is a good reason for it. When we get married, most of us have an idea of what kind of parents we would like to be, and it typically comes from how we grew up ourselves. We either try to emulate those things we admired about our parents, or we vow to do exactly the opposite of what our parents did.
With regard to your question, blended families carry the additional burden of having to deal with the emotional baggage that a divorce (or deceased spouse/parent) always brings. Unfortunately, raising children and step-children can stretch a new couple in ways they had never imagined, sometimes pushing them to the brink of divorce. You are wise to seek outside counsel early on in your marriage as a prevention, which is always less expensive emotionally, spiritually, and financially than waiting until the problems grow to mountainous proportions.
1) Find some quiet time with your husband to talk, pray, and more importantly, listen to each other's ideas and points of view. As the spirit guides you, look for a win-win outcome. This isn't about who is right, but it is about which approach is best. For example, if my wife has the right idea about something that pertains to our children, it would behoove me not only to listen, but also to support and embrace it. What would be the benefit if, by disregarding this advice out of pride or other reason, I ultimately harm those children I claim to love more than anything?
2) Once you are more aligned with your spouse, you need to get "buy-in" from the children. This is best achieved by having a monthly "PPI" (personal parent interview). In our family, we typically do this on Fast Sunday, when we meet with each child individually with the purpose of understanding their point of view. After prayer and inviting the spirit, we ask them specifically about school, friends, church, personal spiritual growth, and their relationship with mom, dad, and each of their siblings. We look at what is working, what is not working, and what they would like to see changed. After that, throughout the month, we support, encourage, and also hold them accountable to the promises they have made. We also encourage them to hold us accountable, as we are not perfect parents, and we have much to learn and improve from understanding our children's point of view.
3) Finally, you must work as a family to fully embrace the gospel together, not by merely going through the motions. By this I mean having daily family meaningful scripture study, sincere family prayer, and weekly family councils and family home evenings. It is so important to avoid having cliques within families, especially blended families, such as "my kids vs. your kids," "boys vs. girls," "oldest vs. youngest." The best way to do so, is through family councils, where each member of the family can (in a constructive and positive way), express their fears, concerns, hurts, and successes. This especially allows the children to have a voice without behind-the-scenes manipulations, or playing one parent against the other.
I recognize that it takes a tremendous amount of extra energy and time to bring these things about, but what could be the outcome of embracing these true and enduring principles? In my personal and professional experience, the outcome is what every parent wishes for: a united, thriving, spiritual family, where growth is encouraged, and love is expressed (daily, if not hourly). As parents, we all want our children to be happy, and there is no shortcut. This is the way!
Dr. Elia Gourgouris
Dr. Elia Gourgouris, PhD, is a nationally known speaker and marriage expert, and is the author of The Multi-Platinum Marriage: Going from Just Surviving to Thriving! (buy here)With over twenty years of experience, he coaches LDS couple throughout the United States and enjoys speaking at BYU Education Week and Time Out for Women. He and his wife, Sona, live near Boulder, Colorado, with their children.
To get more relationship and coaching advice from Dr. Elia, visit www.AskDrElia.com, www.LDSCoaching.com, or call 303.523.6396.