Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Do Stepfamilies Ever “Blend”?

Most do not … although a realistic goal is for all of the members of the stepfamily to feel comfortable, respectful and appreciative of their new relationships. It truly is too much to ask for everyone to have the same feelings for a family that parents have chosen as they do for the one into which they were born, especially if there are other parents around. Even if the other parent supports the new family, there remain ties of longing for and belonging to the original family.

Everyone has to find ways to expect things to go slowly, relationships of friendship and respect to take a long time to develop and reasonable comfort in new surroundings to arise. Most people in stepfamilies say that it generally takes one to two years before breathing a sigh of relief. If there are complicating factors, that may take even longer.

Here are a few suggestions for stepfamilies.

· Communicate. Talk and listen to each other. Allow children to ask questions and disagree. If a child does not like something, find out why. That does not mean that parents have to agree, however, listening and questioning provide respect, and often, important information.
· Engage children, considering their age, in establishing family rules such as household chores. Consider holding family meetings as a way of ongoing communication and assessing progress and problems.
· Parents should use healthy humor, apologies and loving comments to model for their children ways to survive in a stepfamily,
· Develop rituals. Some ideas are: a special dinnertime event, birthday and holiday celebrations, evening and winding down rituals, welcoming children home after visiting with the other household rituals. Think together about what might be rituals and routines to develop for this new family constellation.
· Talk at the dinner table. Consider asking questions such as “What were the highs and lows of your day”. As parents, get involved in the discussion as well.
· Treasure time for the original family … without stepfamily members, and make sure that it happens on a regular basis.
· Never talk poorly about the other parent(s) and respect the children’s desire to have a relationship with that other parent.
· Do not look for or expect “thank you” or appreciation. Celebrate when it does happen.

What ideas have you had? What experiences have you found that worked, or did not work, to share with us?

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