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Strengthening Stepfamilies

Stepfamilies comprise 50% of families in America today.  While there can be great opportunities for growth, there are different dynamics within stepfamilies that can become stumbling blocks. Less-than-effective communication skills, poor conflict management, unrealistic expectations, and lack of empathy often get in the way of the new family formation being successful.

Many parents are highly concerned about the children who may have already suffered from the divorce and may be having difficulty adjusting to the new dynamics. While there are multiple factors to consider that can help, one of the most helpful gifts you can give to the children is to strengthen the new marriage relationship.  When problems arise, the couple relationship often gets lost in the shuffle.  This can lead to problems including mistrusting one another or looking down on the other for how they handle parenting issues.  This can cause additional strain a family system that may already be difficult to maneuver.

If you are stepparents, what can you do to strengthen your relationship and offer this gift? Set aside time for one another to enjoy each other. Remember and experience the reasons that brought you together in the first place.  This may be as simple as 10 minutes a day talking about each other’s day as well as your thoughts, feelings, concerns, and desires.  Do something together that you can both look forward to.  Plan even a short date to connect with one another.

Strengthening the parent-child bond is very important (and we know how to help people do that), but both parents in the stepfamily can offer a gift of stability to the children and to one another by strengthening the marital bond.

IDEALS for Families and Communities is offering a Saturday workshop called Successful Stepfamilies.  This workshop will help give couples valuable information and tools to help them be successful.

Register for our upcoming workshop on Saturday, October 5th.

What was Wrong with the Brady Bunch?

Remember the TV sitcom, “The Brady Bunch”? Mom and three girls meet dad and three boys to live mostly happily ever after (with the help of Alice, the housekeeper). That plot-line made living in a stepfamily look like a piece of cake. Real stepfamilies don’t find life together to be so easy.  They learn it takes patience, wisdom, and lots of work to have successful stepfamily life.

When a first marriage ends, it is normal to say as you grieve and recover, “Next time I’m going to do this right.  I’ve learned from my mistakes.”

But second marriages are not like first marriages. They come with kids, ex’s, child support and visitation schedules, wounds as well as learnings from first marriages, and all the particulars of trying to make a new family work.  It takes a different set of skills to make stepfamilies successful.  On October 5 IDEALS will have a special stepfamily workshop.  At this workshop participants will learn 10 research-based skills for successful stepfamily living.

Here is one of the skills:  Each parent should spend some time each week with his or her biological child.  As stepfamilies form, the new couple needs and wants to spend time together.  That’s important!  It is important to also spend quality, individual time with a new stepchild.  This helps you get to know each other so trust can develop.  BUT it is also important for a parent to spend quality, individual time with his or her own child.  Otherwise the child will feel like he or she has been traded in on a new family.  That feeling will lead to resentment and behaviors that show the resulting distress.  A simple fix is to maintain individual quality time.

If you would like to know more hints for making successful stepfamilies, visit our workshop page  to learn more about the workshop.

Knowing what makes a successful stepfamily is the first step to having one!

-Mary Ortwein, Director, LMFT