One of the biggest issues facing stepparents is the complex decision of when to stand up and when to step away. It’s a classic flight or fight and because of it’s broad application, it’s best to set up some helpful tips now. Rarely do these situations give an advance warning so that we can plan our response, which leaves us with oft times disastrous knee-jerk reactions. Especially when it comes to the other parent.
I was faced with just such a circumstance recently and while I chose to step away, Marco felt that I should have spoken up. It was nothing major, and I still feel like I made the right decision, but with only seconds to make that decision, I thought it would be beneficial to walk you through the thought process of standing up vs stepping away.
4 questions to ask yourself when faced with a challenging parent-to-parent moment:
1. Must this be taken care of now?
Sometimes the best thing to do when in a confrontational situation is to give it time. By allowing yourself the luxury of walking away, you not only keep yourself from reacting to the other parent, you also model positive conflict resolution strategies for all involved. While there are always situations that must be taken care of immediately, I’d venture to say 95% of them would benefit from a little distance and time.
2. Are the children present?
This should be a no brainer for every parent in the history of parents, but children should not be a captive audience to their parents fight. That’s not to say every disagreement must take place in a private spot, but we all know the difference between the disagreements that will resolve themselves in a sentence or two and the ones that are likely to boil over into a major fight. True story: Marco and I sometimes role play small arguments just so Daniela can see us work through them positively. We want her to experience positive conflict resolution by our example. This is good for within marriage, but I don’t recommend it between blended parents. It’s just too easy for it to get out of control in front of the kids. Keep disagreements between yourselves.
3. Do I feel criticized?
The natural response to criticism is defense. In an already tense situation, responding from a defensive position exasperates the other party and causes emotions to quickly escalate. Make every effort not to respond defensively, but gracefully. This is probably the hardest thing for me to do because I speak before I think, but ultimately this is the one that keeps me from saying things I later need to apologize for.
4. Is my response fair?
Sometimes it’s very easy to be critical of the other parent just because it’s the other parent. It’s a natural trap to fall into, and one I feel that society sets us up for, but be careful. Evaluate the situation as if the other parent were a casual acquaintance and see where the chips fall. When I looked at my own situation from that perspective, I saw how my knee-jerk response was just because I disagreed with a parenting style and certainly was nothing I should confront. My first instinct was to step up, but I am so glad I stepped away (figuratively, not physically).
I am an outspoken person with lots of opinions to share, which can often be taken the wrong way. Stepparents, when it comes to the other parent, it’s usually best to keep unsolicited opinions to yourself. And parents, the same goes for your communication with your child’s stepparents. When in doubt, let grace rule your tongue. If you still feel like the subject needs to be addressed, send an email. A well thought out email without accusations or blame will often keep the peace that a verbal response would annihilate. And for the love of all that’s good and holy, leave the children out of it!
I want Daniela to look back on her childhood and have no idea that I ever disagreed with her mom or stepdad in anyway. She can experience conflict resolution between her dad and me, but as far as I’m concerned her mom is off limits. Children should never be put in a position where they feel the need to defend a parent. As parents, it’s our job to make sure our blended family relationships only promote love and security in our child. Because love wins.