NDSU Extension Service - Ramsey County


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Stepfamilies - Not the Exception Anymore

Stepfamilies – Not the Exception Anymore


          Recently several family relationship experts declared that stepfamilies have become the new standard for families.  According to recent interpretations of census data, there are now more stepfamilies than any other kind of family in the U.S.  Half of all Americans have been or will be in a stepfamily at some point in their lifetime.

          Behind those statistics are real people trying to find some real life solutions to blending a variety of individuals into one working unit.  It is both scary and reassuring to adults in those stepfamilies that family researchers have identified the best predictor of stepfamily happiness to be the quality of the relationship that develops between the stepparent and children.  

          It is often painful and difficult for a stepparent to find his/her place in an already established family that grieves the loss of a person you may have never met and tags you as the person who children "test" to see if you are "good" enough to earn membership in the family.  Strategies for effectively combining stepfamilies include –

          Avoid “divide and conquer" struggles –

          Keep in mind the reason you married your spouse, nurture each other, and continue to grow.  Growing into a responsible, independent adult is a large task for any child – now add struggling to find yourself in a new family and it is easy to see why their struggles carry over to the family.  A unified front avoids the “he said I could” conversations and power struggles.

          Develop a sense of a new "we" -
          Carefully consider living arrangements.  Everything being equal, family relationships experts recommend moving into a neutral house. Develop your own family traditions and rituals. Sharing common experiences tend to bring people together. Traditions and rituals are what many memories and future anticipations are made of.

          Memorize the Serenity prayer and repeat often -

          "Grant me the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference." Children are often living in two households where there are two different expectations. Furthermore, you probably cannot control how your "ex" interacts with your children. There are some things that we will need to accept because we have no control.

          Remember children are people too -

          Take the time to understand the incredible amount of stress and disruption which are part of their new lives. The blending process takes 3 - 5 years. Be patient.

           Celebrate the benefits of being in a step-family -  

          Step-families offer many of the same advantages that two biological parent families do; such as, companionship, emotional and social support, education, recreation and financial assistance, they also have other advantages. Some of those advantages include members of stepfamilies being good problem-solvers as they create ways to a blend their family and having very effective strategies for dealing with diversity and change. 

          Perhaps the best advice comes from the parents and stepparents who have made it work.  In a study with families that have succeeded in creating a healthy remarriage and developing strong bonds with children gave the following advice to people embarking on this journey of family-making, their top tips were respect each other and go slow.

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