Dear Dr. Elia,
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 that I know of, and there is a good reason for it. When we get married, most of us have a preconceived idea of what kind of parents we would like to be, and it typically comes from how we grew up ourselves. Either we try to emulate those things we admired about our parents as children, or we vow to do exactly the opposite of what our parents did, if we did not like the way we were raised.
With regard to your question, blended families carry the additional burden of having to deal with the emotional baggage that a divorce always brings. Unfortunately, raising children and step-children can stretch a new couple in ways they had never imagined before, sometimes even pushing them to the brink of a second 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.
- Find some quiet time with your husband to talk, pray and, more importantly, listen to each others’ ideas and points of view. As the spirit guides you, look for a win-win outcome. This isn’t about who is right but which approach is best. For example, if my wife has the right idea about something that pertains to our children, it would behoove me to not only listen but support and fully embrace it. What would be the benefit if, by disregarding this advice out of pride or other reasons, I ultimately harm those children I claim to love more than anything in this world.
- 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, their friends, church, personal spiritual growth and their relationship with Mom, Dad and each of their siblings. We look at what is currently 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.
- The third point happens as we fully embrace the gospel as a family together, not by just 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 avoid this 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 allows the children, especially, to have a voice without behind-the-scenes manipulations, or without 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 is a nationally known speaker, relationship coach, and the president of LDSCoaching.com. With over 20 years of experience, he has inspired thousands of individuals and couples to find greater happiness and fulfillment, both in their careers and their personal lives. He holds a degree from UCLA and a Ph.D. in psychology. Dr. Gourgouris speaks to groups around the country regarding women’s issues, self esteem, communications skills, and relationships. He is also a favorite presenter at both BYU and BYU-ID Education Weeks, and Time Out for Women conferences. He is the author of “DTR: What You Need to Know Before You Get Married” and he has an upcoming CD entitled “The Multi-Platinum Marriage: Going from Just Surviving to Thriving!” He and his wife, Sona, live near Boulder, Colorado, with their children.