There is no denying that managing a blended family is a very difficult task. At least 50% of American children are raised in a blended family, according to a report by the University of Houston’s Jennifer Garcia, and when taking common-law families into account, this figure is probably even higher.
Of course, many children who are products of a broken family end up as happy, healthy and successful adults. I think we’d all like our kids to turn out this way, and there are several things you should avoid doing in order to put the odds in their favor.
Don’t forget to spend equal time with your children and step-children
A close friend of mine married a man with a ten-year-old daughter. She had an eight-year-old son of her own, and because she’d always wanted to have a girl that she could take shopping and play dress-up with, she ended up devoting a large percentage of her time to her new step-daughter while her own son became resentful and ultimately displayed some rather bad behavior.
The University of Florida’s Stepping Stones for Families Series states, “it’s important to spend time alone with each child, especially in noncompetitive activities,” and as Douglas Darnall, Ph.D., notes, step-children also need to spend time with their own biological parent. Try to keep all the relationships within a blended family as balanced and as equal as possible.
Don’t treat children as friends
It’s hard not to want to be friends with your child or stepchild, but it’s important they’re allowed to be children and not burdened with adult problems.
Susan Pease Gadoua, L.C.S. W., writes in an article on Psychology Today, “Those who are using their children to get their emotional needs met may believe that the new arrangement is a good one because they believe everyone benefits. They get their needs met and, as they see it, their children benefit because they get to feel useful and loved. The adults may not realize that there are many more negative impacts on children who are parentified than positive.”
This was a hard lesson for me to learn, and my oldest daughter has discussed with me how it negatively affected her younger years.
Don’t display jealousy of your child’s new step-parent
It’s also important to be sure children don’t feel like they’re being unfaithful to a biological parent for loving a stepparent. Never show jealousy if your child actually likes your former spouse’s new wife, or husband.
As per MarriageMissions.com, “Even in the best of circumstances children feel torn between their biological parents,” and new partners. They advise, “Don’t force children to make choices (an “emotional tug-of-war”) and examine the binds they feel. Give them your permission to love and respect new people in the other home and let them warm up to your new spouse in their own time.”
Never dismiss what children tell you
If your child or stepchild confides in you, it’s important to take what he/she says seriously. Unfortunately, emotional, physical and sexual abuse can occur in both a traditional and blended family. My little brother was physically and emotionally brutalized by our older stepbrother in subtle ways that our parents didn’t notice or want to believe. It was only after he was seriously injured that something was done about it.
The Australian Childhood Foundation offers some good tips, that include: “listen to your child, try to understand the situation from their point of view, and encourage all the children in the new family to talk about their feelings or troubles.”
Don’t forget about your spouse
With so much attention focused on making sure the children are okay, sometimes the spouse is forgotten. It’s important to nurture this relationship as well. Be sure and schedule some time alone together. Doing something that you both enjoy will give you a break away from the kids and enhance your marriage.
A study by the Idaho State University showed that one of the secrets to a happy marriage is scheduling regular dates. They found that couples who went on dates more often were more likely to be satisfied with their marriage than those who spent less time together.
I can attest that this may be the key most important factor in a happy and lengthy marriage. It’s likely to help remind you of the reasons you married in the first place, and give you a stronger desire to maintain it.
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