By by Mary Jo Rapini, MEd, LPC, MEd, LPC
More than fifty percent of all children are raised in single parent families in the United States. But, many of these later become blended families. This is never easy. In fact, the joining of two distinct families is often a major cause of divorce among second marriages.
Blending families doesn’t have to be a nightmare; it can be an opportunity to show a child that love extends beyond problems between their mom and dad. Stepparents or loving partners that a child may encounter after a divorce, separation or death of a parent, can play an integral part in a child’s life and can provide insight into the depth of a healthy, loving relationship.
If you are a stepparent or entering a relationship where blending with the kids is important, there are many important things to remember.
The following suggestions may guide you to help the children you love establish a bridge of peace in your home:
1. Whoever has the children only occasionally should, as much as possible, follow the daily routines the child has from the home they live in most of the time. Kids draw stability from routines, and when their routine is not followed this may lead to increased anxiety and acting out.
2. Never force your stepchild or your partner’s child to bond with you. Bonding takes a long time, and it requires time, not money or gifts. You cannot buy a child’s love.
3. Never talk badly about your child’s biological parent or the stepparent’s ex.
4. Don’t try to discipline your stepchild; this is the biological parent’s job. It is wise to talk to the child’s parent in privacy and come up with a plan together while the child is with you that will work for both of you. As a family, you should talk directly with your child the next day.
5. When you talk with your stepchild, be sure to listen to them, and encourage open, honest communication. Lecturing never works with biological or stepchildren.
6. Gift giving around holidays or birthdays should be discussed prior to the child joining your family. This is not a time to “win the child over.” This is a time to show grace and love, and demonstrate that small things matter most. Trying to outdo the other parent usually backfires and hurts the child.
In lots of little ways, you can create special memories that will last forever with any child.
All children need is to feel loved unconditionally. That can happen in many different family arrangements.
– 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.