How will your new household be run? Many experts suggest establishing guidelines for important family behaviors, especially divisions of labor and difficult areas such as telephone courtesy and mealtimes.
Jeanette Lofas, President and Founder of the Stepfamily Foundation, Inc., suggests assigning specific job descriptions: “We need to be as detailed as we are in business.” Other people resist the idea of too much regimentation: “I'm living in a house, not an army camp.” I suggest holding family meetings to discuss these issues, whether or not you want to write down the Family Rules and pin up a calendar of responsibilities.
Telephone, Internet, Big Black Box
In the electronic realm, you'll find there's lots to discuss and decide upon! Many families find that the telephone becomes a source of contention: too much time spent talking, one person tying up the line, messages being lost or not taken, styles of answering the phone. If phone usage becomes an issue, consider more restrictions—or be prepared to pay for more phone lines.
Another phone line issue involves when and how often people use the Internet. You might want to discuss restrictions on site access, too.
Television use varies from kid to kid, from family to family. I hate television, but I'll not preach to you here. TV usage is another area where the entire family should discuss and agree on policy.
Ah, money issues. Allowance for chores? Allowance at all? Money for the asking? Whatever you decide to do about money, make sure that you're being even and fair with all kids involved and that you and your partner are consistent.
Chores, What a Bore
Go ahead and have family meetings, if for no other reason than to discuss and divvy up chores. Fighting about whose job is what is one of the biggest sources of stepfamily tension between the adults, between the kids, and between the adults and the kids. Having clearly defined expectations can really help. If you've got a semi-combined family, it's important to discuss how the responsibilities of visiting stepchildren will differ from those of the kids who live in the house all the time. On the one hand, all the kids are family members—if some have chores, all should have chores. On the other hand, if a child visits only one weekend in a blue moon, it's not fair (or fun) to ask him to spend his entire time cleaning the house. Perhaps all kids should be exempt that weekend. Whatever you decide, be fair and as equal as possible.
When it comes to food and meals, anything can become a battleground. Food is touchy. People feel that their family food is part of their identity. You may find yourself making a dynamite meal and then facing a child who stares at the plate, looks utterly betrayed, and asserts with finality, “That's not how we make it.”
Sit-down meals, or grab-'em-on-the-run? You may have run your previous family's mealtimes in utterly different ways, but you're starting over now. Shared mealtimes are a valuable, essential part of healthy family life, an opportunity to cool out and catch up together at the end of the day.