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Do you have any Advice
on "Blending" Families?

QUESTION: Do you have any advice on "blending" families? Any good books or articles that might help?

Not only are there good reading materials, but there is a National Stepfamily Association which can be reached by calling 1-800-735-0329 for information and resources. The following information is a short synopsis taken from my article on making healthy stepfamilies available in its full length in the reading rooms on ParentsPlace. John and Emily Vischer's book "How to Win as a Stepfamily" (Dembner books) may also be helpful. And on Monday night, June 30 I will be hosting a chat on the topic of Stepfamilies in the chat rooms at ParentsPlace at 10 PM EST. Hope to see you there!
"....Experts estimate that by the year 2000 there will be more stepfamilies than any other kind of family in the U.S. Half of Americans have been or will be in a stepfamily constellation at some point in their lifetime. About half of remarried spouses procreate a mutual child in addition to children from one or both former marriages, while the remaining 50% of stepfamilies fall into the categories of stepfather families, stepmother families or complex families in which both spouses bring children from another marriage into their new union.

If the joining of two individuals in marriage is comparable to blending two different cultures, as many a family therapist has suggested, then the joining of two individuals with histories of past marriages, divorce and children must be the joining of two different galaxies!

Previous loyalties and relationship loss which predates the new marriage can play major havoc on well meant intentions in stepfamilies, along with other stressors. It is illuminating knowledge to couples at the helm of these families, 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. Like any transition, timing can be one of the most important factors in favor of healthy adjustment. The next most important factor in stepfamily adjustment, as in any family is the strength and quality of the couples' bond. These two very important variables are obviously related, as any natural parent will attest, who feels "torn" between his/her children and spouse. And any stepparent can relate the awkwardness of finding his/her place as a family member and as a parent in a maze of relationships and shared history established prior to his/her arrival.

So, the task itself is fraught with paradoxes. It is often painful and difficult for the stepparent to find a place in an already established system that grieves the loss of a person you may have never met, including being the person who children "test" to see if you are "good" enough to earn membership. It is also important to remember that one of the developmental tasks of a family is to raise and nurture its' young to adulthood in the best way possible. It is important to remember that as a stepparent, you had a choice in the situation while the children did not. As the adult your responsibility must encompass an understanding that you will be expected to be concerned and involved in caring for these children and ensuring their sense of security in traveling through this transition of adding you to their family! If the job is too big---Don't sign up for it!! Remember you are the adult and you made the choice to marry a spouse who came with children. Very often stepparents suffer from unrealistic expectations regarding the transition of blending families, resulting in feelings of helplessness and victimization.

And very often natural parents share fantasies of the perfect family union, pressuring spouses to love children they do not even really know yet, or expecting a stepparent to discipline a child before an appropriate affection has grown between the two. Natural parents can play an important role in supporting the stepparent appropriately, including being understanding of the frustration this role can hold, particularly in the first two years of the new marriage. Pacing the role that a stepparent takes on in the family to match realistically with the development of the relationship between stepparent and child will go along way towards developing a positive relationship.

Because more than 50% of remarriages end in divorce, we can assume that information about the very complex process of blending families is not well known. Being able to identify common pitfalls, predictable feelings, and characteristics of successful remarried families will elucidate a more viable and realistic vision...."

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Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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