Tips for Stepfamilies by Emily & John Visher founders of
Stepfamily Association of America

1. Start out in your own new place if at all possible. This will make for many fewer
"turf" squabbles, hurt feelings, and more ability to rid yourselves of the ghosts of the past.

2. Do not expect stepfamilies to be like first marriage families. There are characteristics
that make them different, that bring their own challenges and rewards. For example,
they are formed after relationship changes and losses; adults and children already
have ideas about how family life should run; they are at different places in their life
(e.g.--a man with three children may marry a woman who has never had any children);
parent-child relationships existed before the couple relationship was formed. There
is a parent in another household and many children go between their two homes.
These characteristics can add a richness and diversity to the family and give the couple
time on their own when children are in their other household.

3. Ease in -- let things develop gradually. Relationships do not develop on demand.
Trust takes time, and initially for the adults it is usually a strange and unfamiliar world
and for most children it seems like a Star Wars Planet occupied by aliens. Don't be
surprised if it take 4-6 years to feel comfortable.

4. Develop new traditions. These hasten the sense of belonging and connectedness
as you develop familiar "rituals" and special celebrations to. We recently read of a
wonderful tradition for stepfamilies: a celebration "dinner for "firsts" "...when Suzy
first learns to read, Charlie gets his driver's license, a parent makes a hole in one.

5. Negotiate differences -- don't fight over right and wrong. Whether or not the dog
sleeps at the foot of the bed or in the garage is not right or wrong but simply two
different expectations.

6. Share past family histories. This is a good way to get to know and understand
each other better.

7. Stepparents should take on parenting roles very slowly. Stepparents need to
build relationships with stepchildren before attempting to set limits for them. With
teens this type of interaction may never be achieved. This means the biological
parent needs to be especially aware of setting limits.

8. Form a solid couple bond. When couples have a good relationship they are able
to work together on meeting the needs of the children. This reduces the parents'
feelings of being caught in the middle between the children and the new partner.

9. Develop and maintain relationships on a one-on-one basis. Having special,
planned, one-on-one time allows relationships to grow and be nourished.
Parent-child, stepparent-stepchild, and couple all need their special times
together, playing a game, reading a story, going to the store, driving to school,
going for a walk.

10. Support children's access to both biological parents. This removes them from
being in the middle between their parents and feeling emotionally torn apart. As
on stepmother said, "The children taught us there's enough love to go around.
" We don't have to ration love!

11. Adults in both households make direct contact. The adults need to work
our residential schedules with input from the children, but not through the
children, until the children are old enough to prefer making these arrangements

12. Children need a special spot of their own in the household. With no drawer
or desk or bed it is not possible to feel as though you belong. One 10 year old
put it clearly by saying, "Why can't they say this is Frank's room which we use
for a study when he's not here, rather than that this our study which Frank
uses when he's here." Even a shelf of your own gives you a claim in the house.

13. Understand that much of children's anger comes from changes and losses
they have not chosen. Sharing a parent, a room, or toy with stepsiblings; going
to a new school; missing your other parent, friends, and former neighborhood;
having unfamiliar food, new rules and ways of doing things.

14. Communicate, communicate, communicate. This is not always easy! If you
find you cannot listen well to one another get someone outside the family to
help you -- a minister, a rabbi, a counselor who understands stepfamily life.

15. Contact the Stepfamily Association of America. There are chapters in many
states. Ask for the catalogue of books and resources. The Stepping
Together: Creating Strong Stepfamilies workbook is a good place to start.
There is a Leader's Manual and kit for those who wish to teach a Stepping
Together course. Join support groups or courses given by churches, agencies,
or Stepfamily Association chapters in your area. Talking with other stepfamilies
can be helpful, supportive, and fun.


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