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#AskAlyson: Blended Families

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Hi Alyson,

Any suggestions in dealing with blended families?
We are a family of 6, ages, 9,12,14,15, plus ourselves, with 2 ex’s.

We find it hard to get the teens on board with their chores. We can turn the internet off, but they need it for the schools cloud for homework. We can take cell phones away, but if they bought them themselves/ were given them by someone else, they refuse to hand them over. As parents these days, what do you do? We’ve had all our tools and rights taken away to raise kids these days, which in turn puts stress on a blended family, as we try and ease things.


Hello Sandra,

Thanks for question. I can hear your concern about feeling powerless, and you are not alone.  Being in a blended family brings new challenges. One of them is establishing the understanding amongst the children that your household when you are together has different operating requirements than the home of their other parent.  This is just like how there are different rules for being at school.  Each social group has its own ways of functioning together.  Even your 9 year old will understand this.

All children, and teens especially, are more likely to live by family agreements if they have had some say in the rules they are expected to live by.  That means involving them in problem solving around how chores are managed in your household.

Because teens are very busy with their lives, friendships and various commitments, it’s usually best to get them to be responsible for a part of the division of labour that has the least time restrictions.  What I mean by that, is that having jobs like unloading the dishwasher is problematic, because they may not be home after school to unload it in time for you to prepare supper because they have band practice or a part time job.  Or – heck, maybe that is when their favorite co-players are on Fortnight and they don’t want to miss out.

So, find other ways youth can help out, like vacuuming and cleaning bathrooms which are jobs that can happen in a less time sensitive way.  Giving them wide time frames helps them schedule their chores into their own timetable which shows respect for them.  With my own teens, we created an agreement that their weekly jobs had to be done before weekend socializing.  I didn’t care when in the week they got it done.

When you make them responsible for things like their own laundry, it means no one in the family experiences the consequences of their non-action except them.

Ask them to help answer the question “what should happen if this job isn’t done?”  When children come up with the consequences, they are less likely to have them play out. And if you do have to implement the consequence, they are less upset with you about it.

Let’s remember that a consequence is different from a punishment in that it is meant to enhance learning. Consequences tie freedoms and responsibilities together – while punishments are just meant to create pain and suffering.  As an example, if you don’t wear your helmet while bike riding, you lose bike privileges, because it is a requirement of responsible cycling to wear safety equipment. It would be punitive to lose your cell phone for not wearing a helmet because these are not related to one another.

Another suggestion is to not overuse the idea of consequences.  You have teens who are likely more mature than most adults give credit to.  Try to appeal to their intelligence and sense of logic.  Simply state that getting people to do their jobs is problematic and you need a better family solution to helping everyone do the things they are responsible for.  Ask them for input on how to solve that family problem.  You would be surprised at how reasonable they are at seeing that it is unfair for parents to do all the work and they are needed as part of the clan to pitch in and help out.

If you really want to try something bold, you can also share how it is unfair for you to be the only one doing your jobs around the house, and instead try a week where you join them in their approach: not doing your jobs, so they can see first-hand what it is like when everyone shrugs responsibility.  When you no longer grocery shop, cook dinner, clean dishes – chaos will ensue.  If done with the right attitude and motivation – your children will have an experiential learning of the value of why everyone needs to do their part.

Give it a try!


About Alyson

Alyson has been blogging parenting advice for over 15 years. She has been a panelist at BlogWest, Blissdom, #140NYC and more. Her content appears on sites across Canada and the US, but you can read all her own blog posts right here.

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