Finding the love of your life and having constant disagreement and hard feelings because there were not clear agreements is heartbreaking. Learning that parenting styles and expectations are different when combining families under the same roof can add unnecessary stress. Creating a family constitution can be paramount to avoiding stress in what should be a happy time. Building a house on a strong foundation is vital in creating a strong house that is built to last. Family Constitution Example
I once made a comment about what made me an effective leader. It was because I had established clear expectations and a system to allow everyone win. I empowered those who wanted to be creative and work hard and cared little about the credit. I strove to teach those around me to think through problems increasing their abilities. I forced people to stretch to be more than they thought they were capable of. The response I received was that a family is not like a business. It is absolutely correct in that the goal of a business is to make money and the goal of a family is different to a lot of people. This is where the difficulty of combining families can be so difficult.
So what is the goal of a family? Raising kids may be a very high level answer, but the deeper you get to the true goal of a family the less concise the answer becomes. Some may be religious based in that they want to bring up kids to follow a certain religion closely while others may not give it much thought. Some may be that the goal is to raise happy children, while others want to create independent and capable children. What is or will be the goal of your new blended family?
Focus on the desired outcomes and goals and not as much on actual rules or situations. A constitution is not a long list of laws so to speak. Clearly communicating and finding a resolution can dramatically reduce the amount of fighting and arguing. Written expectations and the ability for all members of the family to provide input also give the opportunity to have ownership in the new relationship. An example of stating an outcome is that the family all agrees on the valuing of personal space. A topic that may need to be discussed is the personal space in the parents’ bedroom at some point. The norms that are formed in a first relationship or while the parents are single will undoubtedly come into question when households are combined. If it has become common to have everyone bath and get ready in the master bathroom this may not feel like respecting personal space to a new parent forced to share. Again, I recommend not trying to state every situation or every rule that needs to be in place. This can undoubtedly lead to disagreement and stifle the creation. Keep the constitution about goals and desired outcomes.
Fair and consistent seems to be a top struggle in combining families. Expectations cover a broad range and should include everyone living in the house or financially tied to the family. This includes what is and is not a responsibility of parents and children. Families function as good as the collective efforts everyone contributes. If the constitution states that the family values fairness, then further discussions on how chores are divided can be goal based. Stating how something like chores will be handled in detail may not be appropriate for the constitution. Creating a separate system is my recommendation.
Defining the traits that your family values may help as a guide to making decisions. If you value appreciation and hard work it may help in setting the expectation of helping to earn something a child wants. This can include everything from new video games, dolls, or activities they want to participate in. It can help teach kids to be less entitled. It also serves as a basis to go back on for parents of how decisions support the values in the constitution.
Conflict will no doubt arise if one person in the relationship is a saver and the other is a spender. Clearly stating a goal is the first step to creating the plan in which the family can operate. Having a clearly stated plan and honest and open reporting will help facilitate reaching and maintaining the goal. Including adolescent and young adults into this discussion is an invaluable lesson. It also gives them insight into why certain decisions are made.
How will rules and decisions be made in your new family. Will all the kids get to vote or is it up for discussion with everyone able to give input and the parents making the final decision? What frequency will you review the good things happening and the things that need discussion. Stating these and forming and norm can help everyone acclimate to the new blended environment. These regular meetings can help bring unity and show that the family is important and break down divisions.
Preparation and agreement of this constitution may seem awkward and possibly unnecessary to some. Many articles on combining families you will find state that some of the top reasons for failing to blend families is communication and expectations. If the conversations about writing a constitution are awkward and hard it is a preface to the struggles that will follow when such agreements and guidelines have not been established. The constitution attached is a version I have created. This is one of a million ways to create a constitution. Do yourself, the person you love, and your children a favor and establish clear expectations. Show your children you are a team and united with a plan.