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Communication With Both Sets of Parents: How to Improve?

By: Beth Morrisey MLIS - Updated: 17 Oct 2014 | comments*Discuss
Parents Step-parents Child Communication

Q.I have been in my step-daughter's life since she was four years old. Now she is nearly 13 years old and she appears to be finding it difficult to settle. While this is normal, I feel it would be beneficial to start to communicate better with her real mother and her step-father. How can her father and I go about encouraging and supporting these relationships between the four of us in order to improve the relationship with our step-daughter/daughter?

(M.S, 13 April 2009)


Very often communication between parties is strained simply because there is no effort made on either side to overcome the divide and forge a better relationship. In this instance it may be that all that is needed to spark a better relationship is letting others know that a better relationship is desired.

However, as you are a step-parent rather than a biological parent, it may be best if any approaches made begin with your husband, the biological father, towards his ex-wife, the biological mother. Such an approach could be as simple as a telephone call or a small chat when dropping off or picking up his daughter from his ex-wife's care. During this talk your husband should make it clear that he is concerned about the welfare of his daughter and that it is his belief that better communication between both sets of parents will be beneficial to her. This will help make it clear that he's not looking for a strictly social relationship but one that will have direct positive consequences for the daughter that all parents love. If a chat is impossible between your husband and his ex-wife then a quick email or letter might be appropriate. Such communications should contain the same sentiments - that the welfare of the child is at stake and that the communication is desired to help her - and remain civil and polite at all times.

It may be helpful for your husband to give examples of the kind of topics that he feels both sets of parents should be discussing. School work, friendships, romantic relationships, hobbies, extracurricular activities and future plans are all issues with which each parents involved in your step-daughter's life should be familiar. If regular talks about these issues are impossible then perhaps consistent emails would be another option. The details of the type of communications desired should be worked out with input from all parties, and no one should be left feeling that their preferences were ignored.

Communicating well with ex-spouses can be difficult, but if each parent involved is dedicated to the well-being of the child then this can make it easier. If good communication is truly impossible then enlisting the aid of a neutral third party, such as professional mediator, might be valuable as well.

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@GoodDad – I had a similar problem with my ex, but it calmed down when tempers subsided and it was forgotten in a couple of weeks. We have blow ups about once a year and they always get heated then calm down. It’s good that you are still on healthy terms with your ex and that your current girlfriend is very involved with your children. I can understand your ex as on one count you don’t really need the three of you at parents evening, that might just be a little too cosy. Perhaps while your ex likes the involvement of your current partner it is overstepping the mark a little in terms of involvement. While it’s understandable that your current partner wants to be involved as she is their surrogate parent when your ex is not around – perhaps parents evening is one to leave to the parents, I find that is best with us, and my current girlfriend thankfully wouldn't even think of even asking to come. I don’t think that you personally have taken the wrong approach either as you are doing your best to keep the peace and ensure the relationship between the three of you runs smoothly, and I know how difficult that can be, I have to do it all the time. Do they get on? Is it something they could sit out and chat about between themselves? I find it's just a matter of doing what you've been doing and reassuring the current girlfriend that it’s nothing personal towards her and you're not favouring your ex, that you very much respect her involvement, but you still have an obligation to make sure the relationship runs smoothly for the sake of your children and that you will continue to make your decisions based on that.
JP - 17-Oct-14 @ 10:21 AM
I have a wonderful live-in girlfriend that my kids adore. She is great with them and me, but recently, when I signed up for Parent/Teacher conferences at the school curriculum night for my Ex-wife and I (I attended along with my girlfriend and the Ex), my Girlfriend asked what the plan was for her. I put it off addressing this issue for a while but then talked it over with the GF and told her that I would like her to attend as she is very involved with my kids' and even volunteers at school for their classrooms, but I didn't think the Ex would go for it. But I told her I felt like I needed to ask my Ex, if she would be OK with her attending, as a courtesy and needed to be prepared for my Ex to say "No" to her attending. My GF was OK with this (Or so she said), but when I got the "No" back from the Ex, my GF flew off the handle and has threatened to leave as she feels I put my Ex's feeling before hers. I tried to explain that I am putting my kids first because I want to maintain the civil relationship I have with the Ex so that it doesn't affect them and my ability to see them. I do see them almost every day and I am a very involved Dad. She keeps trying to make this situation about her and my Ex somehow having the control over our relationship, but I keep trying to explain that I do need to keep things civil so I can continue to co-parent with my Ex. Again, my GF is pissed at me because she feels that I am putting my Ex's feelings before hers. What can I do? I don't want to loose my GF and potential step mom (She is really great with my kids...to the point that the Ex has said that if anything ever happened to me, she would make sure that the kids would still have my GF in their life. I need help to make sure I dont loose her, but I need help in getting her to understand that she is #1a (2nd only to my kids)
Good Dad - 16-Oct-14 @ 6:15 PM
My partner has an 8 year old son who doesn't live with him, he and his ex don't have a great relationship and only have brief face to face contact when he picks the son up on a Sunday morning. The only other form of contact is email, which the majority of the time can turn quite nasty, most of the nastiness comes from the mother who finds that my partners parenting strategy conflicts with her own. (I think it's a case of she takes a strict role and my partner very relaxed, things that would compliment if they were together but clash now they're apart). She has even threatened with less contact for my partner as their son doesn't behave the way she finds appropriate when he comes back from the day or two with my partner, including this summer holidays saying the boy is only allowed to go to his fathers if he behaves for her, although I can understand how frustrating it must be for her I still don't think that is right, I don't know what to do, as an outsider I can see that they need to work as a team to set common rules and boundaries that both stick too, or is it a case that as the son grows up he will learn that he has to behave certain ways at his mother's even though it wouldn't be expected at his dad's. I'm only in my early 20s and really don't know what to do for the benefit of everyone involved, but especially their son!!
Emma - 11-Aug-14 @ 5:18 PM
I'm confused as to why you don't want your sons to meet their step-sibling? I understand your reluctance to have your ex and his partner in your house but I'm sure you could find a neutral place for the visit to take place. As your boys are now relatively adults could they not arrange the contact themselves?
L - 14-May-14 @ 4:34 PM
Although I simpathise with step parents on the whole, my experience of them has been that they are very insecure and way too pre-occupied with what you have instead of focusing on their own families. My ex and I have been divorced 8 years now and have had nothing but problems with him trying to control myself and the boys. Both are now 17 and 19 and have ASD, which was dismissed by my ex as nothing more than a result of my bad parenting. Fortunately this was dealt with legally. However, after meeting his new partner things got worse and they both attempted to 'correct' the boys by bullying them into behaving like regular people, but were stopped by the courts promptly. Ever since I have maintained civil, but brief communication with them mostly keeping this within the limits of arranging contact with the boys. Occassionally, when problems occured with the boys personally, I tried to gain either support or hands on help from my ex, but once again this esculated into him dismissing the seriousness of their situation and so, I gave into the fact I would have to raise the boys pretty much on my own. In a way, this has enabled me to provide what they needed in relative privacy, since my ex was not allowed to visit my house and instead collected the boys from a neutral venue. However, my ex and his new partner have recently had a baby and are now forcing themselves on the boys reminding them constantly he is their brother and the new partner is now insisting they all visit us with the baby at home. I've tried talking to them both about personal boundaries, particularly the boys who through their own personal experiences with him, are not close to their father anyway, but my ex and his new partner are refusing to take no for an answer. The boys age aside, what concerns me most of all is that for somone who only gave birth 4 weeks ago, this woman should be more interested in her baby and not mine. She even told me that nothing would stop her coming over for my sons birthday even though this was within days of her due date. We live 120 miles away!
Belle - 7-Mar-14 @ 9:14 AM
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