By Rosalind Sedacca, CCT
There are twenty million blended families in the United States alone. That number has doubled over the past ten years.
Some project that blended families will become the norm, or at least a majority, within the next decade. Regardless of the statistics, blended families are a growing reality in our society. They also face challenges that can be overwhelming if not handled with great awareness and sensitivity for all concerned. Whether you’re a step-parent, step-child or step-sibling, you face issues that other families do not encounter.
Here are some suggestions for avoiding problems and tension within your family unit:
• Don’t expect to be the Brady Bunch right from the start. Allow your family members time to adjust to a new reality and new people sharing the same space.
• Discuss family rules and rituals before you make the move into one home. Set agreements and expectations – address questions and upsets – so no one is surprised by the inevitable areas of confusion that are likely to come up once cohabitation begins.
• Agree with your partner not to discipline their children – and vice versa. Kids will never accept that level of parenting from the “new” Mom or Dad. Their biological parent needs to maintain discipline and agreed upon rules and not leave it to you to step in.
• Expect jealousy and insecurity to rear up. Adults can feel threatened by the children of their new partner as easily as children can feel afraid of losing their parent to a new spouse. No one should have to choose between their child and their partner. Spread your love abundantly and communicate responsibly.
• Have family meetings to discuss tensions, insecurities and other adjustment issues. Bringing these challenges into the open, sharing your feelings about them and asking others to be honest about theirs, opens the door to understanding that everyone in the family is making adjustments. No one is alone in feeling unsure about the future – or wrong for feeling anxiety.
• Don’t be a martyr and keep your feelings in. Talk about what you need and expect. Find out what others want, as well. Create a dialogue that addresses issues as they come up – rather than burying emotions and grudges until they explode in toxic behavior.
• Forget the Mary Poppins image and just be who you are. Avoid overcompensating or allowing yourself to be stepped upon due to guilt or the desire to be accepted. You need to win the respect of your partner’s children through the reality of your day-by-day behavior and attitude.
• Step away from issues that are not yours. Let your partner deal with their children when you don’t own the problem.
• Fine-tune your strategies, rules and approaches to conflict on a regular basis. Learn from what worked – and didn’t – and adapt your game plan accordingly. Remember, you’re the adults. Don’t expect the children to take responsibility for correcting situations that need addressing. Seek professional counsel as a support system. Innocent lives are at stake.
• Have a sense of humor. Know which battles are worth fighting – and which to shrug off with a grin.
With these tips in mind you can avoid many of the headaches that come with a blended family and enjoy so many of the rewards that can be found in your expanded family dynamic!
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Rosalind Sedacca, CCT is a Divorce & Parenting Coach and author of How Do I Tell the Kids about the Divorce? A Create-a-Storybook Guide to Preparing Your Children — with Love. For her free ebook on Post-Divorce Parenting: Success Strategies for Getting It Right! as well as her blog, coaching services and valuable resources on divorce and parenting issues, go to: www.childcentereddivorce.com.