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by Kasey Blake

In her national best sellers, "The Dance of Anger" and "The Dance of Intimacy", Harriet Lerner, noted psychologist and columnist, describes our relationship patterns as an ongoing "dance". When we examine this dance pattern further, we see that we are involved in many different "dances" with the various people in our lives. We are mother, daughter, sister, friend, all in one day. The flow of this is often imperceptible. In stepfamilies, however, the "dances" often don't move as smoothly as we would like. Short infrequent visits make it difficult for relationships to get in full swing. It seems that just as everyone is adjusting to their shifting roles, the weekend comes to an abrupt end... stepparent returns to being bio parent... sister/brother is possibly once again without live-in siblings, etc..

How do we succeed at this "step dancing" so that we do not feel we are on a continual roller coaster? A combination of tolerance, planning and understanding will help us to comfortably navigate our continually changing step family relationships.

  1. Accept that this is a huge challenge not faced by most nuclear families. For those of us who grew up in an intact family, odds are we didn't learn the coping skills necessary for living in step. Be proactive in making your stepfamily stronger; read a book, join a support group, attend a seminar.
  2. Start simple rituals to help adjust with transitions, for instance, make a certain meal that everyone enjoys to mark the beginning or end of your weekend together.
  3. Reward good behavior, e.g. "It is so great to see you kids all getting along. Lets get pizza!"
  4. Make a fun children's calendar of comings and goings so that younger children will have a better understanding of when siblings will be with them.
  5. Finally, be open to everyone's feelings including your own. We are entitled to feel many emotions as long as we express them in a healthy manner. Make your home a place where family members can talk honestly about the situation rather than pretending that everything is just fine.

We can do it! Once we acknowledge the difficulties that we face, educate ourselves as well as get support, we will find that we can "stepdance" as well as we used to disco!!