Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Turning Challenges of Blended Families Into Successes

When two families are combined, each family brings its own set of rules, rituals, traditions and loyalties. Values, household responsibilities and ways of doing things that were established in one family must now be reconfigured into a new family structure. It is likely that different types of talents and interests, lifestyles and ways of spending leisure time will exist and may even clash. Understanding these realities of the blended family or stepfamily structure can reduce some of the frustrations of stepparenting.

Research indicates that it takes three to five years for family members to adjust to the newly formed “blended family.” This includes adapting to new people, different kinships and new roles. Tension may exist surrounding such issues as new roles, different last names and adoption of stepchildren. Blended families have to deal with where to live, what to call each other, how to include the other spouse and relatives, how to establish emotional ties with the children and how to discipline the children. Blended families can mean less privacy, more noise, shared space and fewer opportunities for time alone. A childless man or woman marrying into a family with children will need to learn parenting strategies.

Most couples are highly motivated to make their marriages succeed. This determination sometimes fosters unrealistic expectations and wishful thinking. Children, too, may have unrealistic ideas about family relationships. Learning and acknowledging that blended families are different from other families can help couples anticipate potential problems and prepare them for the difficult and not-so-difficult times ahead.

Children and adults often come into newly formed families believing myths of blended families. Eliminating these myths can make life easier for the whole family. It takes time, good role-modeling, effective parenting, perseverance and patience to overcome them.

Wicked Stepparent Myth

Parents may have to work hard to dispel the wicked stepparent myth. The new stepparent may be depicted as the mean parent. This myth can be of particular importance to stepmoms because the depiction of Cinderella and her stepmother in the fairy tale. Remember to provide support and consistent messages to the child and the stepparent.

Instant Love Myth

Another closely related myth is that the stepchildren will like or love each other in the same manner as biological children and that this will occur instantly, or that the children of blended families will instantly love each other just as the newly married parents. This may not be possible. On the contrary, negative feelings may be strong. It takes time and effort to live successfully in the new blended family. Do not set unrealistic expectations.

Disneyland Myth

Finally, there is the Disneyland parent myth where the noncustodial parent indulges a child. A parent may give a child anything he or she wants to compensate for guilt, loss of time with the child or to win favor with the child. This can cause challenges for the parent who is with the child on a day-to-day basis dealing with discipline and homework.

The best way to diminish the challenges of being a blended family is by having realistic ideas about stepparenting and stepfamily relationships. Understanding that stresses and strains are a normal part of a newly blended family can help the family members manage the day-to-day challenges and realities. With time and effort, a healthy family environment can be achieved where members of the newly created family live harmoniously.

Blended Family Basics

Reduce tensions in blended families by following these simple rules.

  • Plan ahead. Discuss with children the changes that can be expected as the families are blended. Talk with the adults involved about any changes and challenges that exist. Give children time to get to know the stepparent.
  • Don’t try to replace the biological parent. Be prepared to be tested, manipulated and challenged in your new role. Work together as a couple to help the children adjust to the new family.
  • Reassure children that their biological parent will not abandon them. Encourage their continuing relationship with their biological parent.
  • Become involved in learning about each child’s interest.
  • Be reliable and consistent. If you make plans and promises with children, keep them.
  • Give children opportunities to vent their frustrations.
  • Establish a workable adult­to­adult relationship with all of the parents involved.
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