Blended Families A blended family, or stepfamily, includes a couple with one or more children from a previous relationship. Half of all people in the United States will experience a stepfamily relationship at some time in their lives—as a stepparent, remarried parent, or stepchild.
Children in blended families have strong emotional connections to a parent who lives in another household or to a parent who has died. In many cases, a child moves back and forth between two households that often have very differ- ent rules and expectations. This adjustment period can be even more stressful than a divorce or living in a single-parent home. Children may feel angry, anx- ious, or depressed and worry that they won’t be able to have as much contact with either parent.
Blended families in which both adults have children from previous relation- ships have the biggest problems to overcome. Children in these families may worry that their own parent will have less time to spend with them, that they will have to share their bedroom or possessions with a stepsibling they hardly know, or that their place in the family hierarchy will change. Rules and family routines may be different.
All these new experiences can put stress on a child. He or she may display his or her feelings through disruptive behavior, or perform poorly in school. Give your child time to adjust to the situation, to become familiar with the new family members, and to get used to the working structure of the household. Step- families who work together to solve problems eventually ﬁnd a living arrange- ment they can all be happy with. Once you make it through the difﬁcult early years, you will probably ﬁnd that being part of a stepfamily is an enriching, ful- ﬁlling experience.
Here are some tips for helping to make living in a stepfamily rewarding for everyone involved:
• Put a priority on the couple relationship; a secure relationship between the two adults is essential for a successful blended family. In many stepfamilies, cou- ples spend so much time dealing with child issues that they don’t nurture their own relationship.
• Agree with your partner on a few important rules and spell them out to the children. Always support each other in front of the children.
• Be patient in establishing a relationship with a stepchild—it takes time. And be cautious when taking on a parenting role, especially with a teenager, who may never accept you as a parent. Your stepchildren are more likely to treat you with respect and courtesy if you treat them the same way.
• Supervision of children is especially important in a blended family, especially when their ages vary. It can be tempting for an older child to stretch the rules with a younger or smaller stepsibling when the two are left alone.
• Have regular family meetings to discuss the week’s activities or any problems
that might come up. Open communication helps establish healthy relation- ships among all family members.
• Take most of the responsibility for disciplining your own child. Give the step- parent time to establish a trusting relationship with your child before begin- ning to set rules for him or her. Discipline all children in the household equally and fairly.
• Resolve any personal differences between a stepparent and a stepchild or between stepsiblings promptly and directly; unresolved problems tend to get worse over time.
• Set aside time for one-on-one activities between family members. Stepchil- dren need to spend time alone with their parent; stepparents should do things alone with stepchildren; and the two adults should spend time alone with each other.
• Participate in a support group for stepfamilies. You’ll see that you are not alone and can learn a lot from the experiences of other stepfamilies.
• If your children are part of their other parent’s stepfamily, support that family and cooperate with both of the adults involved. Competition and tension between two households can cause the children to suffer emotionally.