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Step-Families

Modern "Mixed Up" Families

With one out of two marriages ending in divorce, "blended" families (also known as step-families) are becoming increasingly more common in this country as divorced people - often with children - give marriage another whirl. As the number of blended families increases, so does the divorce rate. The complicated structure of such families puts an extra stress on both the marriage and the family, which divorce statistics bear out. Statistics show that the divorce rate for second marriages is even higher than the 50% rate for first marriages.

The complex dynamics of joining two already-formed families to create a new family has multiple challenges. The good news is that many of these challenges can be successfully overcome and the new blended family can happily thrive. Outlined below are some suggestions for helping blended families adjust:

  • Deal with losses and changes: acknowledge that blended families are often formed as a result of the loss of another relationship or situation. Help family members deal with loss, allow discussion of feelings and make changes slowly.
  • Negotiate different developmental needs: recognize the role of age, experience, and maturity in adjusting to a new step-family. Children have to adjust to a new adult in their lives and quite possibly other children as well. Adults are adjusting to a new marriage, maybe even being a parent for the first time. Work on developing tolerance and flexibility. Make sure to discuss and negotiate for unmet needs.
  • Establish new traditions: It is hard sometimes not to feel that your way is right and their way is wrong. Use family meetings to establish house rules and talk about how to handle family traditions. Try to incorporate old traditions into new ones unique to the new family.
  • Develop a strong couple bond: This should be the number one priority! A strong bond within the couple is essential to providing family stability for the children. "Alone time" together is essential for nourishing the couple's relationship.
  • Forming new relationships: It is helpful if step-parents and their step-children can spend some one-on-one time together in order to develop their own unique bond. This can be more difficult if the children are older, but the step-parent can always be fair with their step-children even if they do not have a warm relationship with them. It is also important for biological parents to spend one-on-one time with their children so that children know that they are loved and not left out.
  • Create a parent coalition: Having a neutral, businesslike relationship between all the adults helps prevent children from feeling disloyal to their biological parents. The more effectively parents are able to communicate about their children, the better their kids are likely to adjust to the new situation. Never put kids in the middle of parenting disputes and don't use the child as a messenger. Don't talk badly about the other parent or step-parents in front of the child, who may often take those remarks very personally.
  • Accept the continual shifts in the household: Allow the comings and goings in the household to feel "normal." This allows children to enjoy both of their households.
  • Risk involvement despite little support from society: Step-parents should feel able to participate in their step-children's lives. Even though others in society may not understand the value of a loving, committed step-parent, make sure that your household does.

Taken from Stepfamilies Stepping Ahead, published by the Stepfamily Association of America.

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