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Blended Families: Blending Tolerance and Patience The following 694-word article is available for publication in print or online. There is no cost to use the article, but full credit must be included as it appears at the end of the article. Please let us know in advance of your intent to use the article, and when; then a hot link or two copies of the article must be sent to us after publication.
Blending Tolerance and Patienceby Mary Jo Rapini, MEd, LPC
When you find that special someone after a sad, bitter divorce or the death of a spouse, you may think of blending your families with joy and high expectations. However, your enthusiasm may not spill over onto your children. They may feel left out and uncertain about the changes that are going to occur. Chances are, they may also wish that you and their mom or dad could work it out. They may feel guilt and anger about your happiness. Before you take this next step, remember these three tips:
1. Be realistic. This is a process that will not happen overnight. Most families report things improving and moving in a positive direction after one or two years.
2. Be patient. You chose to love this new person. Your kids did not. Most likely your kids didn’t even know your new spouse’s children. Don’t expect them to share a house, possibly a room, and their parent easily.
3. Be tolerant. Everyone eventually warms up to others in his or her own way. Pick your battles wisely; know when to insist and when to let go (your new spouse may be able to help with this, out of ear shot of the children).
You love your new spouse, but you may not love his or her children. Stay away from expecting to bond with these children right away, or forming unrealistically high expectations for your relationship with them. Books and magazines make blended families look glamorous, but it’s more likely that it takes a lot of effort to make them work. To grow up secure and healthy, stepchildren need parents who understand several key points:
1. They need to feel loved and connected. Remember that you are not your stepchildren’s original parent so make sure you do not demand things from them. If children feel left out but don’t know how to express it, they will most likely act out. Children may still be suffering from the divorce or death of a parent, which will make them need more of their parent’s attention.
2. Stepchildren will want your love, but you should remember to give it to them on their terms. It is always best to let children know you are there but not to force yourself on them.
3. A child needs limits and boundaries. Let the child’s biological parent and enforce them. If you have suggestions to make regarding boundaries and limits, do it behind closed doors with your spouse when the child is not present.
4. Children thrive if they feel valued and respected. They need to feel that they contribute to the family, which means taking their concerns into consideration. It is a good idea to have a suggestion box and have family members place ideas in the box (no name on suggestions). Make Friday night a pizza night and go through the suggestions. Value them, and try to put at least one of the suggestions into practice. This will give the children a sense that this family is fair and values its members.
5. Children need to feel protected and secure. Let your stepchildren (and your own children) know where you will be. They need time to transition to the new rules and their new rooms. Let them know that they can always talk to you. Also encourage them when you see them joining or engaging with their new family. Tell them you know it is very difficult for them, but you really appreciate their efforts. Kids like to please their parents, even when they wish things were different.
More than one third of all children will be part of a stepfamily by the time they are 18 years of age in the United States. Blending a family is an opportunity for you and your spouse to practice being flexible, patient, and tolerant of others and their differences. It is also an opportunity to work through issues and to model healthy communication for two new families of children. If you see problems heading your way, make sure you talk about them together and privately before they become insurmountable. Children can learn and grow through a divorce and a second marriage.
Mary Jo Rapini, MEd, LPC, is a licensed psychotherapist and co-author with Janine J. Sherman, of Start Talking: A Girl’s Guide for You and Your Mom About Health, Sex or Whatever. Read more about the book at www.StartTalkingBook.com and more about Rapini at www.maryjorapini.com.
Start Talking features succinct yet lively answers, sample conversations, and real life stories to help open the door to better mother/daughter communication. Rapini and Sherman have compiled more than 113 questions girls (and their moms) routinely ask – or should be asking – about health, sex, body image, and dating.