Today, at least one-third of all children in the U.S. are expected to live in a stepfamily before they reach the age of 18. Although stepfamilies are more common, they face many lifestyle changes and adjustments. However, with concerted effort and determination families can work through problems and live together successfully.
Because every situation is unique, the difficulties involved with creating a healthy and happy family unit are varied. However, researchers have discovered the following practices yield beneficial results.
- Rid oneself of the 'left over baggage' of the previous relationship- Roughly sixty percent of second marriages end in divorce, therefore it is essential that any bitterness, resentment, pain and grieving that one still carries is dealt with before entering into a new relationship.
- Nurture the couple relationship- Ultimately the relationship between the new couple forms the foundation for the family unit. If that foundation suffers so does the entire family structure. Be sure to make time for one another, practice positive communication, and work at keeping romance alive through affection and loving gestures.
- Be prepared for strong emotions- Everyone involved, even grown children, will have their own issues and strong feelings when a new family is formed. Hold family meetings and set ground rules for respectful communication. If you find constructive communication is problematic, consider seeking the aid of a marriage and family therapist.
- Establish a unified parenting approach- Seek to create a solid bond that demonstrates stability and a sense of teamwork. Avoid parenting conflicts in front of the children.
- Set aside time each day to spend with each child and stepchild- Even if it is only 15 minutes of your undivided attention, try to take time with each child. This nurtures their sense of belonging and enhances the connection they feel to the family unit.
- Establish new traditions- Since you have no shared family history seek out ways to honor some existing traditions while creating new ones in the new family setting. Establish shared memories and record them in photos, scrapbooks, and journals.
- Maintain and nurture original parent-child relationships- Even though it may be difficult at times, make it a priority to respect the relationship your children have with their birth parent. Never speak negatively of your ex-spouse in front of the children.