The Benefits of Conflict in Your Stepfamily

I recently returned from a week long vacation with my extended family to the mountains. It was a wonderful time of relaxing and enjoying the beauty of God’s creation surrounding us.

Beauty of God's creation

But it wasn’t a conflict-free, trouble-free vacation. They never are, are they?

As I reflected on our trip after I returned, I couldn’t help but parallel the conflict that happened in my biological family-of-origin to that of what happens in stepfamilies. I was raised in a very stable, traditional home with three sisters and two parents who did a wonderful job (not perfect) rearing their four daughters and equipping us for life.

However, we are still four imperfect 50+-year-old women who sometimes have conflict amongst ourselves.

Does that mean our family is dysfunctional? No.

Does that mean we don’t love each other? No.

Does that indicate we need to quit going on vacation together? No.

Could it be we are simply an imperfect family seeking to do life together amidst stress, difficult circumstances, and changing dynamics? Yes!

And when those variables come into play, it’s not unusual that conflict follows. You see,  our family is facing the undeniable reality that my mom’s dementia is progressing much quicker than any of us want to admit. And it’s having far-reaching effects with all of us.

Stress, difficult circumstances, changing dynamics, … and as a result, conflict.

I would venture to guess it’s no different than what’s happening in your stepfamily.  What difficult circumstance are you facing? How is change affecting your family? What is the biggest stressor you’re dealing with right now? Is it creating conflict?

The good news is: conflict isn’t all bad. Conflict is an indicator that something needs to change. And it’s usually a direct result of someone speaking up in regards to something they’re unhappy about.

So, conflict in your stepfamily uncovers someone’s need to address an issue that might need to change for the benefit of the family.

Without conflict, we ignore or internalize what we’re unhappy about and it never changes. And when we internalize our issues instead of addressing them, we create other problems for ourselves that will  show up later such as a volcano of anger that spews, underlying frustration with your family, an ulcer, high blood pressure, and a host of other physical issues.

What’s important with conflict is how we handle it. I’ve addressed this issue before at Tips to Help if You’re Experiencing Conflict in Your Family and Resolve Conflict as it Occurs and several other blog posts. If you struggle with resolving conflict properly, I hope you’ll take time to educate yourself on this very important topic. I wrote a complete article on it, “Fighting Fair: 12 Tips to Help You Manage Conflict and Strengthen Your Stepfamily,” for Stepmom Magazine that can be found here. 

Use conflict in a healthy manner to solve problematic issues in your stepfamily. Don’t skirt around it or ignore it. Address it! (Properly please). And then bask in the beauty of resolve.

Can you share the benefits of conflict resolution you’ve experienced in your stepfamily? Id love to hear about it.  

 

 

 

Tips for an Enjoyable Stepfamily Vacation

Throwing family members together for an extended period of time can wreak havoc on even the most stable family. For a fragile stepfamily, it can be a recipe for disaster.

Tips for a Peaceful Stepfamily Vacation

So if you’re headed out for an adventure with your stepfamily, take along a few tools to keep peace. Here are some tips to consider:

1.  Ask your stepchildren for help in the planning stage.

Gather ideas and brainstorm options at a family meeting to gain participation from everyone.  Kids feel included and assume a better attitude about a vacation when they get to offer their ideas. While relationships are bonding in the early years of your stepfamily, make plans for shorter trips to prevent tension-filled days as a result of too much togetherness.

2. Make the trip fun and spontaneous by breaking a few house rules.

Bring along your sense of humor and allow the kids special privileges they don’t get at home. On our first cruise, our youngest son spotted the self-serve ice cream machine the first day. For the first few days, ice cream was only allowed after noon. But by the last day of the cruise, the ice cream rule evolved to ice cream at breakfast and other times throughout the day. The kids knew it was a special treat that would change when we returned home, but they fondly recall running to the ice cream machine together as one of the highlights of the cruise.

3. Be mindful of the kids.

A stepfamily vacation isn’t the time to insist on quality moments with your partner–that can happen on a separate trip with just the two of you. For a successful stepfamily vacation, assume a mindset of creating lasting bonds and memories. Seek to make it a special time for the kids. Even if they don’t acknowledge your efforts now, they will remember the time and energy you spent on family vacations when they get older.

4. Build in down time to rest and recuperate and maintain a flexible spirit.

 Stepfamily vacations don’t always feel relaxing, especially in the early years. Make an extra effort to find activities that promote rest and leisure without a jam-filled schedule. Sit outside and enjoy the sunset or catch the fireflies on a lazy evening. Be willing to change your schedule if plans don’t go as anticipated. Memories are created as family members spend time together doing activities they enjoy, whether simple or elaborate.

5. Keep a positive attitude and expect a few bumps along the way.

Unlikely happenings occur on vacation.  On a cross-country trip several years ago, I watched in horror as a large concrete truck backed into our Suburban, smashing the driver’s window and denting in the driver’s door before coming to a halt. I remember the screaming and sheer panic I felt as I watched the truck ram our vehicle. It screeched to a halt before injuring anyone, but our vacation spirits were dampened as we recovered from the frenzy and repaired our car enough to proceed. We drove the entire week with plastic rattling from the window in an attempt to silence the wind. We laugh with our kids about the disaster of that trip now, but my husband and I had to work hard to keep the tragic beginning from ruining our trip.

Be reasonable with your expectations, particularly in the early years of your stepfamily. Stepparents lose their patience, cars break down, step-siblings argue, kids get sick. Unrealistic assumptions create a sense of failure when plans go awry.

Stepfamily vacations play an important role in creating family identity and a sense of belonging with stepchildren. As relationships bond, it’s easier to spend extended time together. Don’t give up on a peaceful vacation, even if you experience tension-filled days.  Try again next year and the year after that. The memories you’re creating with your stepfamily are meaningful, even if they’re not perfect!

What tips would you add for a peaceful stepfamily vacation?

Related Posts:

As a Stepfamily, You Can Expect Challenges

Stinkin’ Thinkin’ Creates Bitter Quitters in Stepfamilies

The Effects of Patience in Blended Families