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Expert Answers to Parenting Questions

Q: My first husband and I are divorced and we both have recently remarried. So, our two kids, 6 and 10, now have two sets of parents. We have very different parenting styles. Would you suggest setting some ground rules about discipline or should we just see what happens?

A: Of course, blending families can be very challenging, but it can also be an opportunity to create strong, lasting relationships. The key to healthy relationships is good communication and you may be the catalyst to begin the dialog. The stronger the communication between the adults, the better it will be for the children.

Here is one suggestion: Start by talking with the other parents about having a family meeting. If all are in agreement, it would be a good time to build relationships. You don’t have to necessarily be best friends, but for better or worse, you will be in each other’s lives, so it might as well start out for better. Try to make the family meeting as relaxed as possible, maybe over brunch or a dessert. Start with a round of compliments, thanking everyone for coming and find opportunities to compliment the strengths in each set of parents. This may counteract any defenses that may be raised.

Then talk about the goals that, I am sure, each of you shares in raising strong, healthy, loving, and respectful children. Allow each person to lay out their thoughts on how to best accomplish that goal. Invite feedback, agree to disagree, and most of all always keep the focus on what is best for the children. Try to keep personal feelings out of the mix. If things seem less than constructive, know when to back out, end the meeting, and resume the conversation at a later time. I am not suggesting this is a quick or easy process, but it definitely will be worth it. As with raising children, consistency is the key.

If you are unable to bring the families together in shared agreement, be clear in your expectations to the children of what the rules will consistently be in your home. However, do not give up trying to bring the families together. The reward of happy healthy children will far outweigh the challenge.

Q; My daughter has always looked forward to school, but no more. I have heard that middle school is tough, but she is coming home visibly upset every day. She won’t talk about what’s bothering her. Her grades aren’t suffering, but studying is all she ever does with her free time. Please help.

A: Middle school is tough for many children. It is a time when they are coming into themselves and their esteem becomes so very important. Children today, unfortunately, deal with many more crucial things such as peer pressure, bullying, sex, drugs, or just feeling like they can’t fit in. Try scheduling some uninterrupted time with her. Call it “our time.” Do something fun and relaxing.

Don’t force questions or expect too much; just hang out with her. Find out what she is interested in and what she likes. Do this consistently for a while. Weekly time together is a good idea. Ask about her music or books, watch a movie she likes, talk about what her friends are interested in, and remain neutral and nonjudgmental. Try to keep the focus off finding out what is bothering her. This may help her to open up more. If your concern continues, find someone else you both trust to speak with her. I would suggest an adult family friend or professional counselor.

Valerie McAllister is a family educator with Commonwealth Parenting.
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