EXPERT Q&A

How do we maintain consistency in our blended home?

Having a blended family and co-parenting can be a challenging situation, especially in helping young children understand different rules in different households. To help you navigate this situation, Kelly Wotherspoon provides tips for maintaining consistency in your blended home.

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Question

We have a blended family. I have three children—my two youngest are from my current marriage and my oldest is from a previous marriage. My oldest visits her father’s house every other weekend, and while my ex and I do our best to co-parent, the rules aren’t the same across both households. How would you suggest balancing the fluctuation in expectations between homes while maintaining consistency with our two younger children, who don’t quite understand why their older sister gets to do different things when she’s not with us? Any guidance to help us navigate this will be extremely helpful!

Answer

Blended families are wonderful, but they can be so difficult to navigate. There’s less representation of them in media and that can lead to a lot more effort needed to figure out how to make them work for your family. I grew up in a blended household so I know it can be tricky.

For your eldest, I would suggest sitting down with her and making a Venn diagram with rules and expectations that are just in your house, just in her father’s house, and which ones are true of both houses in the middle section. This can help clarify for both you and her where rules and expectations are consistent. You might also break it into two diagrams: one for spoken rules and one for unspoken rules. For example, I knew that I was not allowed to wear my shoes into my mom’s house but that it was fine to wear shoes inside my dad’s house. No one really ever said that rule out loud to me, but I knew the difference. It may also help point out a rule or expectation that you assumed was being enforced but isn’t. Then you can talk further with her father about how to best co-parent. I’d also keep the diagram in a place where you can refer back to it if there’s ever a “but my dad lets me do that” complaint. Talking about all of this when everyone is calm and not in the middle of a rule being broken will help keep everyone present and engaged in the conversation. Also, if there’s something that she really loves about her dad’s house that you could incorporate into your house without too much upset, it might be worth exploring that.

As for your two little ones, it can be really tricky to explain different rules to younger kids because they are so focused on rules in certain stages. In fact, I’ve been corrected several times by preschoolers for breaking my own rules! It is good to talk with them about how different places have different cultures and different rules. Even very young children know that there are specific rules they must follow when they go to church or swim class or grandma’s house—rules that are different than the ones they must follow at home. You can talk through what the rules of your house are and how some of their friends may have different rules in their own homes. Explain that different families work differently because every family is unique. That can lead you to how your eldest daughter is learning to follow slightly different rules because she visits two different households.

If your younger children ask a question like, “Why does she get ice cream and we never do?”, you can respond with, “Well, she and her dad get ice cream as a special treat because that’s part of their house’s culture. We do cupcakes after soccer. If you’d rather change that tradition, we can talk about that.” I know it can be really emotionally draining to defend all of your parenting decisions, but explaining it calmly and asking your family for questions and concerns helps everyone feel heard and seen, which is the most important part of caregiving.

Kids are very into rules and can be very rigid in how they view them. By talking about your family culture and why you do things the way you do, you can help them understand why the rules in your house are the way they are. I would also suggest setting a time to sit down and talk about this and then scheduling a follow-up time to revisit maybe one week later. That way you can say, “I’m happy to discuss that rule with you next time we talk about the rules on Sunday” and you don’t have to deal with a constant onslaught of questions about the rules. Have a designated time to talk about it and then the rest of the time the rules just are the rules.

Parenting—including co-parenting—is very hard work, especially when you are trying to meet everyone’s needs and help them understand a complex family situation. You’re doing a great job and we’re here to help if you hit a snag!

Meet The Expert


Kelley Wotherspoon

Kelley is a Christian, wife, mother of 3, author, business professional and domestic violence survivor advocate. She is passionate about using her life experiences to help you find joy in the hard stuff and encourage your spirit. Kelley has dual undergraduate degrees in Psychology and Family Studies and a Master’s degree in Executive Business Administration. She is driven to write, serve and advocate for those who need a louder voice. Kelley has served on the board of a local domestic violence shelter for the better part of a decade, and she runs The Kind Kids Academy with her eldest daughter. She is also in the process of developing another nonprofit that will continue to support survivors as they rise above their past abuse.