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Ron L. Deal

Five years into her remarriage, Kay discovered just how life-sustaining and conflict-reducing having a flexible attitude was. Surrounded by four children (two hers and two his), she and her husband dealt continuously with the hectic schedules, between-home conflicts, and parenting dilemmas that most stepfamilies face. When asked how she was able to cope with the stresses and pressures that were out of her control, Kay replied, “I’ve learned how to let go. I learned early on, for example, that letting the other home have the kids on Christmas Day was not only a gift to them, but to myself. I really wanted the kids with us on that special day, but I realized that giving my children and my ex that time helped everyone enjoy the holidays more. Besides, I found that Christmas alone with my husband was not a bad thing. In fact, it was a marriage-building thing. Often I find myself giving in, not because it’s my turn, but because it creates peace for my children—and that is more important than fairness. Besides, in time, I have seen this giving attitude returned to us by the other home.”

What Kay discovered is that flexibility—the quality of being adaptable—allowed her to find a bearable solution to the natural desire of both her and her ex-husband to spend Christmas Day with their children. Flexing the flexibility muscle, if you will, helped her find her way around this seeming impasse.

Finding Balance

Should Kay always take the backseat when dealing with her ex-husband? Absolutely not. Flexibility must be tempered with stability and consistency. Finding the balance is important.

Flexibility refers to how open to change a couple and family is in the areas of leadership, relationship boundaries, roles within the marriage, and problem solving. Healthy couple relationships, for example, maintain a balance between a predictable pattern of interaction (“stability”) and the ability to adapt or change when circumstances call for it (“flexibility”).

Olympic ice-skating duos are amazing to watch. With tremendous fluidity and seemingly effortless grace the man and woman dance on the ice while performing difficult maneuvers that require careful coordination. While they make it appear easy, two difficult actions are at work: flexibility and stability. Flexibility is required to bend, spin, turn, or move in sequenced motion, while stability allows them to share the weight of each maneuver, brace when returning to the ice after an aerial wonder, and support one another’s movement on the ice. Marriage requires this same delicate dance.

When it comes to financial management and commitment to the relationship, for example, a husband and wife need to know that they can expect stability and consistency from each other. This gives the marriage a sense of security because each knows what to expect from the other. On the other hand, couples need the capacity to change as life demands. As children grow and enter new phases of life, parenting responses must change. Without flexibility parents try to manage their teenagers the same way they did when the children were in preschool. Making a child’s decisions regarding bedtime, mealtime, and playtime was fine when the child was four; doing so when the child is fifteen is sure to bring conflict within the home. Therefore, stability and flexibility are both important to a blended family over time.

How strong is your flexibility muscle?

Learn to be flexible with the pace and timing of developing relationships between stepfamily members within your home. One dad/stepdad and his wife found a way to do so. “When my kids came to visit for the weekend, they would hug some and shake hands with others, but after a while, her kids would migrate back to her and mine to me. At first we thought we had to group everyone together all the time so they would like each other. But we learned that it was okay to let them go where it was safe. We let them have their own space, do their own “thing,” and respected when and how they chose to come together. Things got better when we relaxed and didn’t throw on the blender switch. We let them simmer and come together with a long moderate heat.”

Ron L. Deal is Founder & President of Smart Stepfamilies™ and Director of FamilyLife Blended® for FamilyLife®. He is a bestselling author, highly sought-after speaker, and therapist specializing in marriage enrichment and blended family education. Learn more here.