The recent crisis over our country’s debt limit and the way our leaders are handling it got me thinking about the way many stepfamilies and ex-spouses relate to each other. Conflict is inevitable in the environment of a remarried family or stepfamily (meaning a divorced couple, their children, and their new partners). There is a great deal at stake in the way the adults handle these conflicts.

Parents, new partners, and exes will have clashing values—around lifestyle, money, parenting, goals, etc. When parents become fixated on their own agenda, and are unable to appreciate and respect opposing perspectives, they lose sight of what should be their true goal: the best possible outcome for their children.

When problems arise in remarried families, the adults need to step back and take a look at the entire situation—listen, think, negotiate, and compromise. It’s not about winning or losing, but understanding and improving. Strong leadership serves the best interests of the entire group. It does not seek to win, but rather, to protect and support those whom it is charged with leading.

We are all capable of hurting others while thinking we’re acting in their best interest. It’s easier to get out of this trap when we can put our ego away and treat the other parties with respect, dignity, and curiosity. Children notice how their parents and stepparents treat each other, and it impacts them significantly. Parents who model compromise and respect, while standing up for the needs of their children, serve the entire family.

My hope is that our national leaders can learn to work together in a way that their constituents can be proud of and use as a positive model for their own families.

Susan Wisdom, MA
August 2011

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