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Do you have tips on helping stepfamilies blend?

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If you are a member of a stepfamily, you are not alone. It has been estimated that 27 percent of married couples include at least one partner who has been previously married, and more than half of these individuals have children from previous relationships. The prevalence of stepfamilies will continue to increase as nearly 50 percent of marriages in the United States (approximately 33 percent of Utah marriages) are remarriages for one or both partners. Clearly, the number of stepfamilies is on the rise. However, it is difficult to formulate an exact number since most government statistics don’t include stepfamilies formed through cohabitation. One study indicates that 64 percent of stepfamilies begin this way.

Both researchers and practitioners agree that stepfamilies face unique stressors and challenges that do not exist for couples entering first marriages without children. For example, stepparent-stepchild relationships have to be developed, parenting roles among biological and stepparents have to be negotiated and former partners can directly or indirectly interfere with decision-making that goes on within the household. Although the dynamics of stepfamily living can be quite complex, they can also be rewarding. Adults and children in stepfamilies have the potential to enjoy strong, stable, satisfying relationships. To facilitate harmonious stepfamily living, particularly in the first months of formation, consider the following suggestions.

Recognize differences in emotions and perspectives regarding the formation of the stepfamily. For example, children may still be mourning the loss of a biological parent or have hope that birth parents will reunite. Adults, on the other hand, are usually in love and excited to have a new partner. Strive to empathize with family members with differing viewpoints on stepfamily living. Strengthen your marital relationships. The couple relationship is the newest and consequently one of the most vulnerable relationships. Make it a priority to have a strong marriage. Cultivate parent-child and stepparent-stepchild relationships. Activities that foster meaningful adult-child relationships appear to be more effective in cultivating strong stepfamilies than collectively engaging the whole family in group experiences. Each child needs to feel that he/she is personally loved, appreciated and respected by the adults in the household.

· Develop realistic expectations. Remember, it takes time to develop love and trust.

Ease into the parental role. Each biological parent should handle the discipline of their own biological children. Avoid arguing with ex-spouse(s) or speaking negatively about the non-residential parent in front of the children.

· Seek professional help, if necessary.

Posted on 12 May 2006

Brian Higginbotham
Marriage & Stepfamilies Specialist

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