Communication Breakdown

Every stepfamily situation is different – and that includes communication between homes.  As with every aspect of step and blended family life, I encourage you to do what’s right for your family, and also be flexible: what works in one season might not be appropriate for the next.  You have several options for who does the communicating, and how.

All communication between the biological parents.

Why this works well:  Eliminates potential (or continued) conflict between mom and stepmom.  Places responsibility for stepkids on biological parents.

What to watch out for:  Dad makes decisions or agrees on items that directly affect the stepmom – without communicating with her.  Mom initiates conversation that is inappropriate or unrelated to stepkids.

Over the past year, my husband has transitioned to be the sole communicator with his ex-wife.  I believe a lot of it has to do with my stepson’s age (he just turned 18).  Most of the conversations stem from joint decisions about his car, college, and travel arrangements.  Although I used to be in communication with my stepson’s mom on a regular basis, I have taken a step back and let my two guys navigate this season.  They are great about keeping me in the loop!

Communication primarily between mom and stepmom.

Why this works well:  Personal history between dad and mom can prevent effective communication about what’s best for the kids.  Stepmom may also be the primary coordinator of daily activities (education, doctor’s appointments, transportation, etc.).

What to watch out for:  Mom initiates conversation with stepmom that is inappropriate, including acquiring information that could later be used for custody or court hearings.

When my stepson was first admitted to the hospital years ago, my stepdaughter’s mom wouldn’t allow her to visit him (they have different moms).  We had just finished Christmas visitation with her a few days prior, and this was “on her mom’s time.”  My husband attempted to speak with his ex, but the conversation quickly became heated.  He finally handed the phone to me, and I was able to speak to her, mom to mom.  She not only let my stepdaughter spend several days at the hospital with us, but it opened up a channel of communication that was invaluable.

Open communication between dad, mom and stepmom.

Why this works well:  Keeps all parents on the same page and fosters positive relationship between mom and stepmom.

What to watch out for:  Side conversations that undermine the group parenting atmosphere, i.e. leveraging relationship with one parent against the other.

I spent about one year as the sole caretaker of my stepson during the week.  I was the first point of contact for teachers, doctor’s offices, and after-school care, and disseminated the information to my husband and his ex-wife from there.  It worked well for us during that season because I made special effort to include them both in the decision-making process – but also had the authority to make the best decision for my stepson in the moment.  Even though I have taken a step back, there are areas of parenting that both my husband and his ex-wife lean on my “expertise” from that season.

Electronic communication only.

Why this works well:  When viral or in-person communication isn’t possible without being escalated or using abusive/inappropriate language.  Tools like Our Family Wizard® are often court-ordered, or advised by legal counsel.

What to watch out for:  Written communication is often admissible in court proceedings.  Using electronic communication solely can also delay the relaying of urgent information.

There were a few years during my stepdaughter’s childhood that phone conversations between my husband and her mom weren’t healthy for anybody.  Even the most straightforward conversations escalated into an argument, and it was hard on my stepdaughter to see and hear her parents fight.  They eventually decided to communicate solely via email, reserving phone conversations for emergencies only.  Even though it decreased the amount and frequency of information exchanged, the quality of their communication was much better!  It also opened the door to healthier communication years later by preventing further damage to their relationship.

Show respect for all people, [and] treat them honorably. – 1 Peter 2:17

I can’t stress enough how important it is to have an open line of communication between your stepkids’ two homes.  However, don’t misread “open” as without clear boundaries or respectful language.  Ask yourself if your family’s current method and mode of communication is working, and don’t let your personal feelings compromise this interaction.  I know it can be a hard pill to swallow, but in some situations and seasons, it really is in your stepkids’ best interest to be left out of direct communication with their mom.  As one of my favorite Pastors taught me:  I don’t have to be right, but it has to be right.

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