"Blended Family" Training Can Avoid Headaches & Heartaches

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

It's encouraging to see that we have begun to recognize the value of family education such as that of pre-marital counseling, post-divorce counseling and shared parenting. In this ever changing world of ours, it might be prudent to add one more family module: "Blended Family Counseling."

Perhaps family courts should require prospective step-parents to go through blended family counseling. It might save many children and parents future headaches and heartaches if the blended family counseling also involved participation by the child prospective step parent/s and step siblings.

At present, children are often "thrown in" into the mix of strangers ---- the step-parent and siblings which they didn't elect in the first place and didn't have adequate opportunity to interact with and adjust to. Being thrown into the water and somehow managing to float is one thing, while taking prior swimming lessons before going into deep water is another!

I just came across a book, Jigsaw Puzzle Family: The Stepkids' Guide to Fitting it Together" by Cynthia MacGregor, which offers dozens of highly practical tips. The author talks directly to children but, in my judgment, the book can also be read by parents and children together.

I would like now to "blend" tips from MacGregor for children and the tips I offered parents in my earlier article, "Stepfamilies Must Make Adjustments."

Here are a few of MacGregor's tips for children:
1. You will meet a few bumps on the road as you adjust to your stepparent and stepsiblings. It doesn't mean they are bad or you are bad. It takes time to learn how to live together. It's not your step-parent's fault that your parents got a divorce. Resenting your stepparent won't bring your parents together.
2. It's not disloyal of you to love your new stepparent. You can love both your mom and step-mom and your dad and step-dad. You don't have to instantly love your stepparent or stepsiblings, take your time and give them a chance.
3. Don't' say, "You're not my mom" or "You're not my dad," even though it's true. A stepparent knows that they are not your birth parent, so why hurt them by saying it?
4. If you don't love your step-siblings, you still might be able to get along. It's normal to have negative feelings for your stepparents and stepsiblings, but try to work things out for their sake and your own sake.
5. It's normal to be jealous of your new step-parent because you're no longer (the focus of your mom and dad, but you will be happier when you get over it.
6. Having a new step-parent means getting used to new rules. Rules we have to live by change throughout our lives whether we are children or adults. Growing up means learning to live with the changing rules.
7. Try not to think of "us" (you and your sisters and/or brothers and your birth parent) and "them" (your stepparent and your stepsiblings). You are all one family now.
8. Know the difference between a stepparent who is simply strict and one who is really mean or cruel.

Here are Sharma's tips for parents:
1. New challenges and bumps are facts of family life. Prior to bringing the children under one roof, discuss extensively how you would deal with the challenges as you blind the two families.
2. By the same token, you are going to blend two sets of family rules and those might be quite different form each other. Be flexible in blending them and allow children time to get used to them.
3. Accept initial disagreement and conflict between stepsiblings and you your step child as a fact of blended family. Be tolerant.
4. Don't be in a rush to assert the parental role for stepchildren. It is best that a birth parent take up the matter of the violation of the family rule and exercise disciplinary measures. Stepparents may, however, bring the rule violations or lack of enforcement to the attention of the birth parent.
5. Provide personal and private space to each and every child that he or she can regard as his or her own. If a bedroom must be shared, at least initially pair up the birth siblings rather than stepsiblings. When stepsiblings become "friends," they might ask you for some changes that make them more compatible.
6. Regularly spend one-on-one time with your birth children.
7. Have "family meetings" as the need arises not only to resolve family problems but also to take positive steps to meet "family goals."

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Copyright 2005, Mind Publications 
Posted May 2005


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