Single Moms: Your Kids, and His: Motivating Them to Play Nice!

By Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D.

yourkidsandhisAre you a single mom who has found yourself mothering your boyfriend’s daughter; a slightly obnoxious brat who refuses to cooperate with your discipline tactics and seem to undermine you at every conceivable opportunity? Then let Tina B. Tessina, PhD help you tackle the often daunting task of peacfully blending your families…just don’t expect instant Brady Bunch results!
Hopefully, single moms and dads with children will talk about the issues of co-parenting and blending a family before they try it, ” says Dr. Tina.  “Single parents should never rush into marriage before they’ve worked out their parenting, discipline, household rules, finances, etc. If you’re not of one accord, your children will use it to “divide and conquer” — to the detriment of everyone, including themselves.”
Dr. Tina highly recommends family meetings (which include everyone) on a weekly basis. It’s always a good idea to begin the session with a brief prayer or blessing and a round of compliments where each family member gives a compliment to every other member as this creates a positive atmosphere. At the meeting, each person present should follow these steps:

1. Gratitude: Every person states a positive thing about each person in the family, preferably something that has happened that week. For example, “I really appreciate how much you helped me this week when you knew I had a deadline at work.” Or, “I noticed that you made a big effort to keep the kitchen clean.” Or, “Thank you for your sense of humor. It really helps when you make me laugh when I’m getting too serious.” Be sure to thank the person after praising them. If you follow a religious tradition, you can open the meeting by giving thanks in the manner of your faith.

2. Improvements: Each person then mentions one thing they want to improve, and what they want to do to make it better. Small children will need help until they understand, but they will catch on quickly. Even you and one child can do this. The rule is that, in order to bring up a complaint, you must have a suggestion for a solution, even if you don’t think it’s the best possible solution.

3. Problem Solving: If anyone has a problem to solve, he or she can describe it, and then ask for help from the group to solve it. Everyone can work together to come up with a solution. Be careful not to allow the description of the problem to deteriorate into criticism and complaining. To state a problem use matter-of-fact terms, and use I messages: “I get discouraged and frustrated when the house gets messy.” “I have a problem at school.” “I need help figuring out how not to fight with Susie anymore”.

This simple meeting will do more for the state of your intimate or family relationship than you can imagine. If you deal with problems early and approach them with a team spirit of solving them together, most problems can be solved before they become disasters.

SMW: Are there any issues single moms should never try to broach with their boyfriend’s kids?

Dr. Tina: Past girlfriends or wife. Don’t pump the kids for information. If you’re jealous or worried, ask your boyfriend– not the kids. Also, find out how he feels about talking with the kids about sex, dating, religion or any other sensitive topic before talking with his kids about them.

SMW: Is it important/essential for a single mom to have the support of her boyfriend’s  kids birth mother in order to get along with his kids?

Dr. Tina: It certainly helps a lot. Try to get direct contact with the birth mom, call her for scheduling, questions about school, etc. If you don’t always have to go through the boyfriend, your relationship will be easier. Invite her to talk to you directly about the kids, compliment her mothering skills and definitely be nice!

SMW: Is it ever possible to achieve a Brady Bunch type of blended situation? What should a single mom keep in mind when attempting to have a relationship with her boyfriend’s kids?

Dr. Tina: Yes, it’s possible — kids want to be liked, to get along — unless they’re rebellious teens, and even then they’ll want to be liked from time to time. Take your time, allow things to develop. Listen to the kids and give them a chance to tell you who they are. Don’t accept your boyfriend’s analysis of them — form your own relationships with them. If you show interest in who they are, they’ll respond. Children should also be involved in making decisions. When the children feel they’ve been heard, they’ll be less resistant to family rules. If the children have a say in devising reasonable punishments for infractions, they’ll feel the rules are more fair.

Consistency is important, and so is setting boundaries. Change is difficult for everyone, so understand that it will take a while for things to settle down. If you’re consistent about enforcing the rules, loving and available as much as possible, and each child has some special recognition for his or her activities, talents and needs, your new “blended family” will work smoothly. Blended families also often have to deal with shared custody, with various children leaving at different times to spend time with the other birth parent. These changes require “re-entry” discussions and rituals, so everyone can adjust each time.

SMW: What are the best ways for single moms to address “re-entry” discussions and rituals, so everyone can adjust each time?

Dr. Tina: It’s best if the whole family can do this together — it can be really simple, done in the car after picking the kids up, or at a meal after they’ve arrived. Just tell them you missed them, you’re glad to see them. Let them talk a bit about what happened while they were at their mom’s house, then in a gentle way, remind them that things are different in this house from mom’s house, and make sure they remember that. If there are clear differences, such as they have to do their homework at a certain time, or TV is more limited (or less limited) just go over the rules. You don’t have to make it  a big deal, but it will help them adjust.

Raising children together involves values, parenting and discipline styles, religion and ethnic traditions, which must be understood and agreed upon by the parents. Blended families can be a challenge, but I also have many adults in my practice who say a caring, helpful step-parent or girlfriend/boyfriend was the best thing that happened to them. Yourboyfriend’s children will challenge your authority, but don’t forget, they do this with their birth parents, too. The most important thing is to give the various relationships time.


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