As previously discussed caring for an elderly parent is a challenging job and often comes with family strife. Conflict between siblings may stem from feuds or roles that are decades old. Or perhaps the conflict may simply be a result of family members facing so many emotionally charged decisions about a person they love. Whether it’s deciding when to take the keys, move a parent into a facility, or how to manage finances – tension is likely for many.
But how do you know when the tension is too much? And if it is, what do you do about it? If you feel like you have tried everything, but just can’t seem to come to an agreement on things perhaps it is time to call a mediator. Professional mediators are trained in conflict resolution and act as a neutral party to help facilitate the decision making process. They are available to hear all sides of the story and help diffuse the situation. Mediation is typically cheaper than litigation so it is often a favorable choice. Ideally, a mediator will help reduce the overall tension and keep the family focused on the goal of doing what is in the best interest of their loved one.
If family relationships feel like they are on the brink of destruction it may be time to consider a mediator. It just may benefit everyone involved.
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During any new marriage there’s an adjustment period. When there are kids involved, making it a blended family, there will definitely be a period of adjustment – for everyone. As family members begin to learn more about each other and their new roles there will inevitably be some challenges. Here are a few tips to help manage the transition.
1. Be Patient – Remind yourself this will take time. Chances are the kids will not fall in love with their new stepparent or step-siblings overnight. The same goes for parents. It may take some time to fall wholeheartedly in love with your new step-children, particularly if they are having a difficult time with the transition and are acting out. It’s ok to take some time. Trying to force a relationship too fast won’t help anything. Try to allow a little space while still being available to them when ready. Remind yourself that blending a family is a big transition and each individual family member may be working on their own time frame.
2. Make Time for Each Other – As a newly married couple with children it may be difficult to find the time to connect with each other one-on-one. Make dates a priority. Investing time in your marriage can strengthen your foundation and help you both to lean on each other during what may be a difficult transition. It’s smart for you not just as a couple, but as new co-parents. Spending the time to connect with each other can help provide the support you need to remain strong and be consistent with the kids.
3. Set Family Boundaries and Expectations – Take the time to lay some ground-rules with the family early on and involve the kids in the process. Let them know there is an expectation of respect for every family member. (This also goes for members not present – don’t speak negatively about the child’s “real” parent in front of them). It’s also important to note that in the beginning it’s best for the biological parent to be the disciplinarian, not the stepparent. Stepparents need time to build relationships with stepchildren before they can easily step into the role of disciplining.
Take a deep breath. Building a family is a marathon, not a sprint. Work hard to develop a home environment that will foster organic growth in the individual relationships.
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As noted previously, caring for an elderly family member can be incredibly stressful. Often times family conflict arises as a result of the physical, emotional, financial, and spiritual challenges family members face – both individually and collectively. If the conflict gets out of hand an objective third party mediator may be necessary. However, there are steps individuals can take to manage the family conflict before rising to that level of need. Here are a few tips to try to keep in mind as you navigate the process:
1. Listen. Truly, honestly listen. Let family members know you are hearing what they say and are trying to understand their point of view.
2. Respect. Remember that emotions are running high for everyone. Feelings of anger, guilt, hurt, fear, confusion, etc. are likely at the root of what different family members are saying and doing. With this in mind it may be easier to show some restraint and some respect for others which can ultimately help to diffuse the situation.
3. Communicate. Share your feelings openly. Revisit them when necessary. As situations change family members need to come together and communicate new problems or decisions. Break them down piece by piece so that everyone can understand what is at stake. Refer back to tips 1 and 2 when needed.
No matter what stage of caring for an elderly relative a family is currently in it’s important to remember it doesn’t always have to come down to “my way” or “your way.” Sometimes middle ground can be found when actively working towards managing conflict and working together.
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You’ve found your soulmate and are looking forward to the big day! You can’t wait to ride off into the sunset together after the reception. But what do you do when your mother-in-law calls you five minutes after you’ve left to make sure you got on the road ok? Or when she calls first thing the next morning to see how your night went? Hopefully, this is an extreme example and something you won’t encounter. But it is important for you and your partner to have open conversations about in-laws and expectations. Because in some ways it’s true – you’re marrying the whole family.
Have you thought about how much time you plan to spend with your family after you’re married? Have you discussed it with your partner? Do you know how much time he or she wants to spend with their own family? Maybe you anticipate seeing your family once a week while your partner would prefer something less frequent. Perhaps you’d like to go as a couple to extended family gatherings, but your partner is more comfortable staying at home while you go alone.
Then there’s the issue of holidays. Will you spend them separate from your families of origin? Will you split the holidays and spend the morning with your family while you spend the afternoon with the in-laws? Or, for example, will you alternate holidays – spending Thanksgiving with one family and Christmas with the other? Will these arrangements change if you have kids?
Then we come back to money (see our previous post). How important is it to you to be financially independent from your parents and your in-laws? Is it just as important to your partner? Your partner may be quick to turn to parents or grandparents for a loan while you may want to avoid it at all costs (or vice versa). Or perhaps you have different views on whether or not you want to loan money to other family members. Maybe for one of you it’s important because it’s a family member, while the other finds it difficult because it’s the third loan and you’ve never received any of the money back.
Also important to discuss is the issue of elder parent care. For some of you, this may be far off and hard to think about. However, for some this may be close at hand or an issue tied with strong emotions. Should either set of parents get to a place where they are no longer able to live independently do you know what living arrangements you or your partner would be comfortable with? If they need full-time care would you be more comfortable with them living with you or in an assisted living facility? Would you pay for the facility?
None of the above questions are designed to scare you. Instead, the hope is that they will act as a springboard for conversation with your partner. Take some time to think about where you stand on some of the issues, share them with your partner, and listen to their views.
Be sure to check back next week as we discuss our next topic: Sex.
Blending a family through marriage can be exciting. More family members can mean a larger support system for everyone. Stepparents have a unique opportunity to become an important role model in the life of a child and stepsiblings of all ages can create lifelong bonds. Merging families may open the door for new cultural and religious experiences that can add depth to the life of a child.
Unfortunately, blending a family can also prove to be very challenging. Bringing together two separate groups of individuals will inevitably require some adjusting. Know that the transition period may be handled differently for each family member. For example, younger children are often more accepting and adjust quicker than adolescents. Children of all ages may struggle with new rules, roles, and siblings and may feel like they are a threat to “the way things used to be.” They may also resist a stepparent because they feel the need to remain loyal to their parent. Remember that children need to feel loved, accepted, and important. Children in blended families need to feel they are heard especially during the transition. Work towards maintaining a dialogue about the joys and challenges within the family while everyone continues to adjust.
December is in full swing which means the holidays are just around the corner. For some they symbolize a season of hope, joy, and cheer. For many, however, the holidays produce tremendous stress, anxiety, and feelings of depression. Perhaps they are a painful reminder of a loved one lost. Maybe this is the first Christmas following a painful divorce. Maybe you’re having difficulty accepting that certain holiday traditions and rituals may not survive in your new blended family. Or maybe you lay awake at night wondering how you will provide a happy holiday for your children following a recent layoff in the family. Whatever the reason, know that you are not alone in your feelings. You should also know there are steps you can take toward creating a harmonious holiday for the entire family in spite of circumstances.
1. Acknowledge your feelings. Recognize it is ok to feel sad or lonely. It may even be a necessary part of the grieving process if you recently lost someone you love.
2. Set realistic expectations. The holidays won’t necessarily turn out as rosy as they do in our favorite holiday classic movies. Remind yourself you cannot do everything (and neither can your spouse). Set small goals and keep an open mind about compromising some traditions if it means keeping the peace for everyone.
3. Be good to yourself! That may mean going to bed early to fight off fatigue or monitoring your eating and drinking consumption so you don’t overindulge all season long (which only adds to feelings of guilt and depression). Being good to yourself also means taking a few moments each day to just breathe and remember you can do this! You deserve the break.
4. Reach out for professional help. There’s no shame in needing a helping hand through the holidays. It may be just what your family needs to navigate its way through the season.
Children and teens, as much as adults, need ways to deal with sources of stress.
Their world is full of new and often stressful situations over which they have little or no control.
Even children growing up in the most secure and stable families must cope with situations that we never imagined.
Children are taught to conform to societal expectations by learning to control urges and impulses that are deemed unacceptable. As they mature, they are expected to give up childish behavior to manage increasingly challenging tasks.
Furthermore, children must learn to cope with peers who can be cruel and generally difficult.
Don’t forget that children have very little or no say in most all crucial aspects in their lives. They have no control of where they will live, their parent’s marital relationship, how they fit in with peers or even who will teach them in school.
Finally, children today have much of their time scheduled with multiple extracurricular activities while being expected to maintain honor roll status. All of these things can be stressors. Even when a child’s difficulties are “normal” for children of his or her age, parents must be careful not to dismiss or minimize their importance.
- Pre-Marital Counseling