It’s good to have goals to work towards. They give you a sense of accomplishment when you reach them. Having goals means that you value what you have – yet there is room for improvement. It prevents stagnation, even nature does not allow stagnation. Major companies set quarterly goals and re-evaluate them regularly. You and your partner are the CEO of your company – your family. Families are in a constant phase of growth and change and it’s important your goals reflect the family life cycle you are in.
How do we create effective goals? We can make them SMART goals. What are they? The concept of SMART goals was created by the consultant George T. Doran. SMART stands for:
Specific – define the who, what, when, where and why.
Measurable – how will you know that you have achieved your goal? What benchmarks or goalposts will help determine that?
Achievable – can you attain the goal? Are both of you invested in achieving the goal? Make sure you set your self up for success.
Realistic – is the goal realistic given the life cycle you are in now. Be realistic about the pressures and demands of the current situation.
Timelines – it’s easy to underestimate how long things take to achieve. You can set six-month goals, one-year goals, five-year goals etc.
When setting family and couple goals, it’s essential to keep in mind you are on the SAME team. So what are your TEAM goals?
I like to use the four main topic areas used in the book by Susan Wisdom “Stepcoupling: Creating and Sustaining a Strong Marriage in Today’s Blended Family”. She focuses on four areas: communication, connections, co-parenting (in your OWN home i.e. teaming up to parent the kiddos), and clarification as main ingredients for stepcouple success. So here are a few recommendations based on these four key areas:
Communication goals: Setting time aside to get ahead of the issues is a great start. Then listen and be present. Caution is needed here; this is not a magic bullet to prevent conflict! So how do you prepare for it? Do you have a plan for managing conflict before it happens? The best time to do it is when you are both calm, alert and available to talk. The following sections rely on having a good base of communication.
Connection goals: Key pieces here? Time and availability! Decide how often you will be dating or spending alone time as a couple. Rituals and routines can help. Do you kiss before you go to work? When you come home from work? How do you keep connected if you are separated by work and long periods of time? I highly recommend the book “8 Dates” by John and Julie Gottman. The book is a fantastic resource to help you with planning dates, and the conversations to have during those dates. In it, it suggests how to troubleshoot a variety of date night barriers. It helps remove communication and connection barriers. Efficiency at it’s best!
Co-parenting goals: This is an area that can cause the most grief in stepfamily dynamics. Setting goals in this area can be challenging, however, there are some general rules of engagement to help set up this goal. First, ask your partner if he/she wants your input. Once an agreement has been reached, sitting down with your partner and the kids to set up general parenting rules and consequences is an excellent start. Everyone being a part of the decisions making gives a far better chance of buy-in from the whole family. This process could be the start regular family meetings. This is a great goal to start with! It is important for stepparents to remember building a relationship is an essential part of the disciplining of stepkids. Disciplining without a solid relationship based on mutual respect and goodwill can create issues. There can be a lack credibility, and willingness of the stepkids to listen, making it very difficult to enforce the rules.
Clarification goals: Unpacking the baggage from previous relationships is critical. Wisdom stated in her book that the best way to have a good second marriage (or committed relationship) is to have a good divorce. Not every couple can have a “conscious uncoupling”, but we can do healing after our relationship breakdown. The goal is no axes to grind with kids in the middle as weapons. It’s not just the intimate relationship history to keep in mind, but also ones from childhood. Are you ready and willing to heal old wounds? This might be a more personal goal but it can have a big impact on your relationship. Clear out the ghosts …and the skeletons.
Ali has a BA in Psychology and an MSc in Human Ecology specializing in Family Studies. She is a certified stepfamily coach and the owner and founder of Step by Step Mom- Stepfamily Coaching , a stepfamily and stepmom coaching business. She’s worked with Children’s Services in Edmonton, Alberta since 1998. She is currently a trainer on Edmonton’s Caregiver Training Unit teaching classes on building skills, providing advocacy and support for foster, kinship and adoptive parents. These classes include building the essential skills in raising nonbiological children from the foster care system who present with special needs. Ali is a stepmother of 3 adult children (with a couple of grandkids too) and the birth mother of 2 beautiful girls.