Sally Connolly, LCSW, LMFT has been a therapist for over 30 years, specializing in work with couples, families and relationships. She has expertise with clients
What do you call yourselves?
What do you call the person who is married to your parent?
How do you refer to your spouse’s children?
What you call yourselves affects the way that you relate to others in your family.
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Think about it. The term, “stepfamily” tends to have negative or evil connotations. How would you describe one of the most famous stepfamilies … Cinderella’s family? Most people automatically think of wicked stepmothers and stepsisters.
The term “blended family” has problems of its own. The dictionary definition of blending is “to create a harmonious effect or result” and in many remarried families, harmony might not be noticed very often at all! It is extremely difficult for many families to “blend”. Relationships are complicated and feelings, history and loyalties make blending impossible for a large percentage of stepfamilies.
Remarried family numbers are growing. In a nationwide Pew research study released recently, 42 percent of 2,700 adults polled said that they had at least one step-relative. Three in 10 have stepsiblings or half-siblings, 18 percent have a living stepparent, and 13 percent have at least one stepchild.
More of these newly constituted families also come from single adults with children who had previous relationships but never married.
Unrealistic expectations are common.
Setting unrealistic expectations, which the idea of “blending” seems to do, invites family members to expect that everyone will get along, like, and maybe even love each other … and be as happy as the two adults who fell in love and married.
The divorce rate for stepfamilies with children at home is higher than for any other marriages. Living with children who are not your own is difficult. Add to the mix those children who may still be struggling with their parents’ divorce, teen age years or other situations and you have a mix that can be extremely difficult.
It can take years to for stepfamilies to form the emotional bonds taken for granted in nuclear families and stepparents have to accept and respect that these connections take a long time.
Different parenting styles are enhanced in stepfamilies.
In nuclear families, parents often have different styles of parenting which may cause problems. In stepfamilies, the differences are intensified as each tries to employ their own style of parenting on the children in the family. The stress and tension that this causes can reverberate in all aspects of a couple’s relationship.
There are some tips for stepfamilies that will help families develop calmer and respectful ways of being together. The most important of these are to
have a good sense of humor and
look for and highlight any positive changes.
In future blog entries, I will share some tips for stepfamilies and stepfamily members, stepmoms, dads, children and couples. I also invite those of you who live in stepfamilies and have had success in blending, to share your stories and tips.
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