When You're Not The Brady Bunch

I married my husband two years ago. We both have children from our first marriages. He has two daughters (almost 20 and 18) and a 16-year-old son. I have a 16-year-old daughter. All but his 18-year-old live with us. My husband started out expecting us all to be one big happy family. He still can't understand why we don't get along and why I won't change my parenting skills to mimic his. (My daughter terms this "the Brady Bunch syndrome.") I feel that it's too late to change rules and behavior. How can we resolve this problem?

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Gayle Peterson

Gayle Peterson, PhD, is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She is a clinical member of the Association... Read more

Perhaps both you and your husband are right. Your husband may yearn for greater agreement between parents in setting guidelines for teens, and you might want to keep the stability and values you have established in your own parenting relationship with your daughter. One of the difficult tasks of blending families is to respect differences, while simultaneously establishing effective agreements for co-parenting. Though there are no simple rules of how to accomplish this, teamwork is an all important aspect of healthy family relationships. Continued discussion between parents about their philosophies, styles of parenting -- in short the reasons why you have raised your child(ren) as you have and what your goals are in doing so is necessary for promoting an atmosphere of understanding and solving problems together. Developing listening skills can improve understanding and even effectively result in eventual influence on your partner for change. Stonewalling one another by going silent on the conflict can have a potentially damaging effect on the long-term relationship.

Trust is based on working these issues through, even though it can take time. Even if you do not agree, feeling understood by your partner is the foundation for love and respect when future conflict arises. The basis for trust is a relationship in which communication can flow. Ceasing to communicate about these differences undermines your relationship, and prevents the possibility for change and adjustment over time. It's never too late to change rules in a family, if the new ones work better. This is a good example for children that growth and change are not only possible, but liberating.

Teens as well as younger children do need parents to take the time and effort to communicate and explain feelings and situations to them, as well as be prepared to listen to and consider their input. When parents take the time and effort to listen and understand one another, an atmosphere that embraces family involvement, participation and cooperation flourishes, whether there are differences in parenting style or not.

Refer to my article on Communication and Problem Solving for exercises that might be useful in continuing to discuss parenting differences and establishing understanding and teamwork. When you are able to discuss these issues in an atmosphere of safety and understanding, then you will begin to establish agreed upon guidelines for parenting. Working through conflict, rather than avoiding it, will show your children that compromise can be effective in relationships. Being able to compromise reaps the rewards of greater respect and intimacy with your partner. Being "right" may be temporarily gratifying, but in the long term undermines the warmth and affection in the relationship.

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