Thursday, May 3, 2012

Building a blended family is not for the faint of heart

Building a family that works together as a caring and supportive unit is tough, especially when children and step children who have experienced divorce and remarriage are in the mix. As parent and step parent, it falls on you and your spouse to create an environment in which your blended family can grow. You accept that it will be a challenge, and that it will take time. Here are a few suggestions that might make things a bit easier.

Be realistic
Have reasonable expectations about how quickly your blended family goals can be reached. You and your new partner continue to learn about each other and still face the joys and challenges of your remarriage, which must form the base for your new step family. Remarriage can, in some ways, be more difficult to navigate than a first marriage. Your children will have to learn to navigate their new roles as step kids and step siblings, too.

The bottom line is, be patient. It is unreasonable to expect your steps kids to accept and love you immediately, or for you to fall in love with your step kids right away, either. Expect there to be wrong assumptions, misunderstandings, and stubborn behavior, and it’s not just the kids. Living with a new bunch of people takes patience, empathy, consideration, and a sense of humor.

Parenting is hard work
It is a good idea to discuss parenting styles and beliefs before you get married, and agree on how you plan to manage your step family. If you begin making parenting adjustments before your remarriage, step kids will be less apt to blame the step parent for any changes they may dislike. If you are already married, it is never too late to discuss better ways to parent your step family and to make adjustments together, as a couple. Working together as step parents will strengthen your relationship, and reinforce your position at the center of your blended family. When you work as a team, anything is possible for your step family!

Are angry outbursts, sobs, stomping around, slamming doors, and withering looks familiar to you? These are typical adolescent signals that all is not right in their world. Generally speaking, younger kids generally take to the blended family life more easily than their bio- and step siblings, though they can be teary at mealtime or bedtime. Older teens often try to stay aloof from the entire blended family scenario, but can easily slip back into adolescent rage.  And they have really perfected those adolescent withering looks!  It is good to remember that children need structure and behavioral boundaries the most when they are feeling lost and angry. They count on parents and step parents to provide that structure and boundaries, and yes, to give them discipline.

The need for discipline
The term discipline has earned a heavy-handed reputation, but discipline is not necessarily punishment or consequences. Discipline is practicing certain patterns of behavior. When we set ground rules for our kids, aren’t we teaching acceptable behavior? When it comes to building a blended family, step parents need to take the lead to teach discipline and respect, and consequences, to their bio kids and step kids. Discipline is one of the best gifts parents can give their children.

As step parents, be brave and faithful to your goals, and you, along with your entire step family, will ultimately reap the benefits. Don’t be afraid to take the leadership role together, and teach your step kids that you are there for each other, and for them. Step-parenting may be hard work, but it is definitely worth it!

The Blended and Step Family Resource Center was created with the aim to help blended and step families with resources that include books, newsletters, articles, advice, as well as professional coaching and counseling services.

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