Special Needs of Stepfamilies

According to recent statistics, between 40 - 60% of new marriages in the United States are of people who were married at least once previously. Although step (or blended) families have become the new "norm", it is critical for the couple to recognize their special needs and challenges. In doing so, they are better equipped to build a strong foundation that will sustain a successful long-term marriage.  

Top Ten Tips for Stepfamilies:

1)      Consider a new home - by starting out fresh in a new home, family members are less likely to feel territorial or like they are infringing on someone else's space. 

2)      Demonstrate a strong adult bond and unity as a couple - a positive spousal relationship is crucial to the success of the stepfamily; children's fear of another loss is reduced when they see a strong marital bond. 

3)      Preserve original relationships - birth parent and child "special time" help children feel less of a sense of loss at sharing a parent. 

4)      Recognize love takes time - it is unrealistic that a new spouse and child will immediately love one another.  

5)      Accept that children will grieve the original family - parents should help children talk about their grief; pay attention to a child's changed behavior as this may be their way of expressing insecurity and loss.  

6)      Accept children's loyalty conflicts- assist children in recognizing it's acceptable for them to love more than two parental adults. 

7)      Maintain cordial relationships with ex-spouses - helps children to not feel "caught in the middle", allowing them to experience the positive aspects of the new blended family. 

8)      Stepparents should take on parenting roles very slowly - stepparents need to build relationships with stepchildren before attempting to set limits with them. The biological parent should set the limits until a caring relationship has been established (often 18 - 24 months) between the stepparent and child.  

9)       Negotiate differences - don't fight over right and wrong, instead recognize there will be differences and negotiate how they will be managed.

10)   Do not expect stepfamilies to be like first marriage families - stepfamilies have unique characteristics and needs that can not be compared to first marriage families.