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Bonus Family is a term coined by Jann Blackstone-Ford, who has a doctorate in pschology, and Sharyl Jupe. Blackstone-Ford is married to Jupe’s ex-husband, Larry. As they explain on their website, bonusfamilies.com, “We’re trying to change the way society looks at co-parenting after divorce or separation and stepfamilies.” 

Blackstone-Ford hated being called a stepmother and felt she was insulting Larry’s kids when she introduced them as her stepchildren. Wanting to change Cinderella connotations, they coined the term “bonus family.”

“And, from that day forward I was their bonusmom,” Blackstone-Ford said. “They were my bonuskids and we were a bonusfamily. No more negative step-connotations. Bonus was our word of choice … we decided it was time to scrap the old concept of step and offer a new more positive model.”

It wasn’t always this way. 

Blackstone-Ford and Jupe butted heads for years until they realized they could actually work together. Blackstone-Ford describes how when she would put on her makeup, she would think about Jupe and all the irritating things about her. She would become quite annoyed when putting on foundation, and by the time she applied mascara, she would be absolutely fuming. When Larry commented that he could judge her mood by the amount of makeup she wore, Blackstone-Ford decided to make a change. A door opened when both moms needed each other’s help.

This effort evolved into what is now known as Bonus Families. The goal of the Bonus Families organization is to offer mediation, conflict management, support and education to people attempting to combine families after a divorce or separation. It shares Blackstone-Ford and Jupe’s practical and professionals experience and offers down-to-earth real advice that works.

In an advice column format, Blackstone-Ford and Jupe have hundreds of articles on divorce, co-parenting, single parenting and getting along with the ex. 

One of their strongest suggestions is to make careful plans before bringing a new spouse or partner into the family. Blackstone-Ford offer the following tips in an article called, “Tips BEFORE You Tie the Knot … Again.”

  • Before you marry or move in together, visualize and have a goal in mind for each relationship within the family. How will the relationship between biological parents and their children change with a new partner? What will the relationship be between the new partner and bonus children? How will communication be fostered with the new partner’s ex? What will the relationship between the children be like?
  • Get organized. Divide chores. Discuss discipline. How will you combine different discipline values and styles? Will you both discipline each other’s children? How will you appear as a united front? Respect each other’s differences and understand that each member of the new family has a history and individual personality. 
  • Establish rapport with the ex and the ex’s new partner. Realize you all have an impact on each other’s children. Stop justifying why you don’t get along and look for ways to start a new working relationship. Put the kids first when making decisions. Leave the past in the past and make the children’s present the primary concern. 
  • Establish a forum for family conflict resolution. Blackstone-Ford notes that too often, when biological and bonus families have difficulty, they split into opposing teams. Once everyone has taken sides, it is difficult to reach a resolution. She suggests making these agreements: 

a. Anyone can call a meeting, from the youngest child to the oldest parent.

b. Everyone has to attend. 

c. The person who calls the meeting must come to the table with at least one suggested solution.

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d. Insist on respectful communication. No griping. No blaming.

e. Address one problem at a time and stay until everyone agrees on a solution. 

Bonusfamilies.com offers help for divorce, co-parenting, single parenting and getting along with the extended family. There’s an online support group. And even a way to suggest the site anonymously as a signal to put differences aside.

Parents can raise children together as long as they cooperate, communicate and support each other. Bonusfamilies.com can help.

Bonusfamilies.com can help parents cooperate, communicate and support each other to raise happy, health children together. 

Linda Gryczan is a Helena mediator who encourages you to submit your conflict questions to be answered in this column to lindag@mediationworks.tv.

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