One technique I’ve stumbled across to help build relationships in step families is to think of the family as a team. A lot of parenting sites and advisors talk about family teamwork, and I’ve learned that it can help step families even more.
First, talking about the “family team” often makes it easier for children to accept the new relationships. Because kids are so tied to the idea of a biological family, it can be hard for them to understand having a second family that includes a stepparent. Teams, on the other hand, don’t have that disadvantage. Children understand that they can be on multiple teams. They can be part of a marching band, Scout troop, and community theater all at the same time. They know that each one comes with different rules and different expectations. Participation also requires less emotional involvement from them. They don’t have to like all of their teammates; they just have to work together with them to meet the common goal. Of course, we want to build our relationships into family-type ties eventually but speaking in terms of a team allows the time for the relationships to develop organically while getting immediate jobs done.
Just as important, the concept of teams speaks to a universal human need to be part of something meaningful. People, even children, want to be part of a group or cause larger than themselves. Emphasizing a child’s important role in a team helps them feel part of the group and helps build relationships with the other team members.
Plugging into the team concept also makes it easier to help children feel like an important part of the group. I found, for example, that when I explained chores as part of the overall team effort, I got less resistance from my kids. The “family team” needs certain things done. Some of them, such as electricity and water, only an adult can handle. But other things, such as taking out the trash or doing the dishes, children can do just as well. When they take care of those tasks, then it frees up the adults for other, more entertaining, family projects. That explanation didn’t prevent all disagreements, of course, because kids are kids. But it did make our conversations much smoother.
Finally, we can learn some important principles from teams. For example, there is always an adult in charge. The coach sets the rules and decides who has which task. The team also spends a lot of time working together and practicing. Likewise, we need to find ways for our “family team” to spend time together, whether it’s game nights or movies or family dinners. The more time we spend on common goals, the stronger our relationships will be.
Perhaps the most important principle we can learn from teamwork is that everyone wins together. When one team member succeeds, we all win and we need to celebrate together. Of course, it can be tricky if, for example, one child always gets good grades while another struggles. But just as different people on a team have different strengths and tasks, we need to help our kids find their own avenues to succeed. Whatever those avenues are, we have to recognize them and make sure that the entire family joins in the celebration.
As with all parenting principles, there is no perfect way to blend a family. We can’t put it together the way we do a recipe or chemical reaction. But teamwork principles can give a blended family a familiar template to start the hard work of building relationships.