Parenting in a Blended Family

Dear Elana,

My fianceé wants to call off our engagement because of differences in our parenting styles. We both have children from previous marriages, and she wants me to provide the kind of structure and consequences for my daughter that she has with her own kids. The problem is that I only get to see my daughter on weekends and I don't want to spend the whole time arguing with her.

Please help,
Believes Lenient Expectations Now Doomed


Blending two families is a challenging feat. Fortunately, many couples that I've seen in my practice have paved the way and you can learn from their mistakes and successes. First, you need to safeguard your relationship with your fianceé. Spend time enjoying each other apart from the kids: stroll through a night market, bond over shared appreciation of an exhibit at a museum, or snuggle up together with a crossword puzzle on the couch. Once you’re in a good place as a couple, you can discuss your expectations for parenting. Agree on consistent rules that apply to all of the children. If possible, it’s a good idea to include your ex-partners in the parenting decisions to maintain clear boundaries across households. Your kids will feel secure knowing that they're not supposed to spread strawberry jam in Fido’s fur at either house, and that jumping on the bed is only allowed after their teeth are brushed (“Aw, Dad!”).

Arguing does not have to be an inevitable part of setting limits. Young children generally accept rules without a lot of theatrics, especially when the rules make sense. It sounds like you have a close relationship with your daughter, and you can leverage that relationship to get her on your team. A firm and consistent approach works best, ”We can't go to the movies until your toys are put away.” There's nothing more to say. The car is simply incapable of starting when toys are scattered on the floor.

I understand that you want to make the most of your limited time with your daughter. The problem with being the roller-coaster-and-cake-for-breakfast parent is that it sets your daughter up for conflict when she returns to her mom's house, where she has to wash dishes and study for quizzes. Kids thrive when they spend time engaged in mundane tasks with their parents. Teach her how to rake leaves, practice math facts, or inflate a tire on her bike. When your fianceé sees that you are raising your daughter to be confident, self-disciplined, and helpful, she is sure to fall in love with you all over again. There really are few things more attractive than a man who is a great dad.