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Secrets of Integrating Stepfamilies Successfully
by Nancy Samalin

Few blended families are as blissful as the Brady Bunch. In real life, remarriage is enormously stressful for parents and stepparents -- and especially for children. To make the transition smoother:

STRATEGIES FOR PARENTS

For kids, remarriage marks the end of the family they knew. Their fantasies that Mom and Dad will reunite have been dashed. Expect kids to be upset. They must make major adjustments -- to new adults, stepsiblings, another home, etc. A move may mean a new school, loss of old friends and the need to make new ones. To minimize the stress...

Keep changes to a minimum. Maintain contact with relatives, friends and neighbors.

Encourage kids to express their emotions. Don't criticize, judge or attempt to talk them out of their feelings.

Hold weekly family meetings. Discuss problems. Listen to each other without interrupting. Ask children to suggest solutions to conflicts, such as sharing a room with a stepsibling or spending time with relatives on both sides of the family.

Settle differences with your ex-spouse in private. Never criticize him/her to your children. Keep anger or resentment to yourself. Don't use kids as ammunition or go-betweens.

Aim for consistent rules in all households -- yours and your ex-spouse's. Reach consensus on privileges, bedtimes, homework and chores.

Don't get wimpy on discipline. Divorced parents who spend less time with their kids may tend to shirk enforcing appropriate limits.

Remember: It's more important to be a child's parent than to be his buddy. Don't fall into the trap of granting every wish just to keep children happy.

Make sure the biological parent is the primary disciplinarian. The stepparent needs to play a supportive role but defer to the biological parent whenever possible.

STRATEGIES FOR STEPPARENTS

For stepparents, a blended family means being in the middle -- not quite a parent, not a total stranger. On the plus side, stepparents bring a fresh perspective to family relations because they don't carry emotional baggage. To make this transition easier...

Don't expect to love your new stepchildren right away. They may not even like you instantly either. These feelings are normal.

Don't take attacks personally. If your stepchild says accusingly, You are not my mother/father -- instead of being hurt or getting defensive, a helpful reply would be, You're absolutely right.

Give your stepchildren time to get to know you. Expect some hostility in this process. After all, kids naturally see you as a rival for your spouse's affection... or as an intruder who is trying to take their other parent's place.

Cultivate special activities and interests just for you and each stepchild. Time alone with a child can create a special bond that sets your relationship apart from his relationship with the biological parent.

Focus on the positives, such as what you appreciate about your stepchild. If conflict persists, you may want to seek family counseling.

First Printed: August 15, 2000

Bottom Line/Personal interviewed Nancy Samalin, director of Parent Guidance Workshops, New York (www.samalin.com), and author of the best-seller Loving Your Child Is Not Enough: Positive Discipline That Works (Penguin).


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