Step Families

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Step Families


Whether you have been through a divorce involving children or are just marrying someone who already has children, the dynamics of a stepfamily can be an ongoing struggle and require a bit of guidance. Many stepfamilies, although they are fully capable of treating each other with respect and living happily together, act out with anger, selfishness and disrespect towards each other. The hardest part about this situation is that most members of these families do not understand why they are acting the way they are and quite often do not wish to continue the behavior.

Issues exist within each member of a stepfamily. Every person involved has something new to adjust to and has a different perspective on the situation. The difficulty lies in trying to adjust to this new situation while also dealing with the emotions lingering from past events such as a divorce. Children, particularly, have trouble describing their feelings and emotions with words and therefore act out. They don't know why they are acting out, but they do it because of the lingering frustration within them that they don't know how to deal with any other way.

This is just one of the many, many problems and family dynamics that can arise within a stepfamily. A lack of communication, or bad communication in general, will almost always lead to problems within the family. With patience, however, your stepfamily can grow together through healthy communication. You can learn about one another, find out what is important to each member of the family, and discuss issues that are bothering anyone.

A stepfamily should be a source of support and love. With a bit of dedication and hard work, you can create the family dynamic you wish to achieve. By understanding the problems you are facing and discussing them openly, your family will become more connected and less disrupted.

Common Struggles

Children's Emotions
Major dynamics and struggles of the common stepfamily generally stem from the emotions, actions, and responses of the children involved. Their attitudes and comments are very evident of how they are feeling inside, and within stepfamilies, those attitudes are often quite confused and frustrated. These feelings usually come from the past events that have occurred, particularly a tough and recent divorce of parents. Be sure to keep in mind that these challenges are very common and you are not alone.

Because your step children have a tough time putting their feelings into words, those feelings become bottled up inside. At a later time, that frustration is released in an overreaction or outburst. The bottled up frustration can also come out in passive comments, negative attitudes, or just a general mood of unhappiness. A divorce and the ensuing step-family situation can be incredibly confusing to children, so having an inability to express that confusion makes the situation even worse for them.

When a stepparent begins to enter a child's life, that person is often viewed by the child as an intruder. Not only has this person replaced the child's other parent, but their presence also implies that there is no chance for the child's original parents to reunite. When the child remembers the parent that has been replaced, it creates a sense of dislike towards the new stepparent. Their future actions represent those feelings of dislike. Again, the child is often unaware of why he/she feels that way or how to express it.

Taking Sides
This can lead to the stepchild or step children taking sides. Many children who are in a stepfamily including one biological parent and one stepparent can show more loyalty and respect to the biological parent for obvious reasons. If a family is going to work happily and successfully, however, both parents should receive equal respect from the children. Although it is impossible for a child to automatically love their new mom or dad, it is definitely possible to foster strong relationships and create comfortable family dynamics.

The "Better" Parent
Another danger in stepfamilies is the risk of parents falling into a pattern of trying to be the "better" parent. This often occurs when a biological parent feels threatened by their new partner, the new stepparent. When a stepparent begins to develop a real relationship with their stepchildren, the biological parent of those children can feel a sense of jealously and look at the stepparent's actions as threatening. When this dynamic occurs, it is common that the biological parent will then attempt to undermine the stepparent. The actions may be completely unconscious, but even small actions can undermine a parent's authority and image to a child. This situation is quite difficult because, in reality, the stepparent and stepchild creating their own unique relationship is very healthy for the family.

Differing Levels of Emotion
If a new stepfamily comes together in which both parents have gone through a divorce and both have children, you will probably need to treat each child differently. While one child may have had longer to process the divorce and understand their new situation, the other may have just realized what the separation means. If their ages are different, it is almost guaranteed that they will have different views of the situation, emotions, and questions. Each child is unique and should be catered to individually.

As you can see, the results of the common stepfamily can be tough to deal with sometimes. Each family in each situation will go through different trials depending on the members of that family and the circumstances they are dealing with. The problems, however, are fixable and simply require dedication and patience from you, the parent or stepparent. If you educate yourself about what is really happening within your stepfamily, you can discover the real problems and the solutions to solve them.

Common Solutions

While the idea of a new stepfamily may seem a bit unnerving, there are basic steps you can take to keep things running smoothly and keep the family connected. The problems that can commonly arise within stepfamilies are complex and confusing, but with patience, dedication, and the right knowledge, your stepfamily can learn to respect and love one another naturally.

Setting Rules and Boundaries
Things will be difficult when you first begin living together as a stepfamily, especially when multiple children from different marriages are coming together. With a completely new familial situation, home setting, and general dynamic, the process can be incredibly confusing for kids of all ages.

When you begin your life as a stepfamily, it will be very helpful if you all come together for a meeting and set up some rules and boundaries. Each member of the family should have their own chance to speak and voice their individual opinions about the rules and regulations. This not only empowers the children, but also gives them a clearer understanding of the rules they need to follow and the new dynamics of the family. Discuss issues like chores, weekly family meetings, respecting house rules and others. If multiple children have come together in the household, design some specific rules for the children to ensure them the privacy they need to feel secure. When a teenager moves in with a twelve-year-old, the teen will obviously want his or her privacy from their new stepsibling. Specific issues like that should be addressed at this meeting. Setting rules and boundaries early will help to develop a routine for the family to get used to and will help the day-to-day life run smoothly.

As mentioned earlier in this article, a major problem arising within stepfamilies is a failure of communication. A lack of communication is a gateway into a world of other problems. Keeping open lines of communication throughout the family will help you to fix problems right when they begin, before they become very difficult to solve.

Keep an active dialogue with each member of your family throughout the day. Even if it is a quick conversation in the morning before work or school, you will be showing your family that you are thinking of them and care about what is happening in their lives. In the evenings, try to get everyone in the same room without the television or other electronic distractions; board games and family dinners are great ways to bring the family together and open lines of communication. Ask about their day, ask specific and interesting questions, and try to keep everyone involved. If you notice someone is consistently quiet and doesn't participate in the conversation, make an effort to include them by asking about their day or what they think about the topic of discussion.

You should also be observant of the communication going on amongst the children of the stepfamily. When children from different families are suddenly thrust into the same home and lifestyle, it can be confusing and threatening. The children can become threatened by one another, feel jealous of each other, and can increase the distance between them over time. Try and partake in activities that the children both like so they have an opportunity to enjoy each other's company. If you notice your new family having trouble with communication, do some research, have patience, and take healthy steps towards increasing dialogue within your family.

Family Meetings
A great routine to get involved with is a family meeting either once or twice a week. This is a fantastic time for your family to communicate, spend time together, and figure out solutions to any problems that have come or may soon arise. Each family meeting should be different and should address the issues that have recently arisen within the family and the household. Issues that involve the whole family should be the focus, but individual problems brought up by members of the family should also be welcomed. It should be a time and place where every member of the family can feel confident in expressing their feelings and views in a comfortable and accepting environment.

Not only are family meetings once or twice a week a good way to start a dialogue, but it also seriously reduces stress when it comes to day-to-day family life. When each person knows what they are supposed to do and when, common tasks become simple. Issues like cleaning, cooking, taking the garbage out and abiding by curfew can be consistently addressed and modified within family meetings to suit the ever-changing lives of the family. Instead of problems being argued over and tasks never being completed, your family can work together through communication to live easily stress-free.

Clarify Intolerable Behavior
When your children do not have a clear idea of what actions are tolerable and what ones are not, they will obviously have trouble behaving properly and respectfully. By not only clarifying the behavior that will result in consequences but also explaining why that behavior is unacceptable, your children and stepchildren could at least begin to behave because they know why those actions are appropriate. When a child is punished for doing something they didn't know was wrong, they will feel confused and won't fully understand the problem with that behavior.

You should also clarify the consequences of intolerable behavior. Let the children know exactly what kind of punishment will occur if they misbehave. This honesty will create a sense of mutual respect amongst you and will help you avoid dolling out inappropriate punishments by coming up with them on the fly. Spend some time creating healthy and appropriate consequences for the different levels of misbehavior. Children then have the choice to behave or deal with the clarified consequences.

The Value of Harmony
When a family gets along, everyone gains from it. All the members of the family have mutual respect for each other, take care of their own responsibilities, and naturally enjoy spending time together and living in one household. When children's behavior is consistently appropriate, parents are more inclined to give them the things they desire. They will also enjoy their time together more than they would if the child had been misbehaving over and over.

Explain to your child the advantages of behaving, treating each other with respect, and being open about problems that arise. Describe how communication will help no matter how much they think they will get in trouble or feel embarrassed. Let them know you consider them your best friend and will help them through anything, no matter what it is. Your child will begin to realize that if they behave and communicate, life is happier.

Be Patient of Acceptance
Acquiring a new stepparent is a massive transition for a child. When new family members begin to enter the picture, a great amount of emotions and thoughts flow through them. Since many of these children do not know how to communicate these feelings clearly, they choose not to communicate at all. This unfortunate occurrence leads to a lengthy process of acceptance for the child.

As a stepparent, it is difficult to see your stepchild having trouble becoming comfortable with your presence as a parental figure. Patience is the key. Give your stepchild space to get to know you better and let them choose when the time is right to move closer. Forcing yourself into the child's life will only make them dislike your presence there. You will appear as an intruder.

Sit down with your stepchild or stepchildren and have a conversation about this process instead of presuming they are too simple to understand. Work together as a team to make things better. Ask them what they find appropriate and inappropriate. Find out if they feel uncomfortable with anything you have done in the past or do on a daily basis. You can learn from each other through this conversation and could actually increase the bond you are trying to improve in the first place. Given patience, communication, and time, a stepparent and stepchild can have a successful, healthy, and life-long relationship.

A major, inherent struggle within stepfamilies seems to be the fact that the children involved did not choose to put themselves in the situation. They are dealing with circumstances presented to them instead of created by them. In this case, the stepfamily members can often seem like intruders. This is why communication is so important. A lot of the problems in stepfamilies are due to misconceptions, so discuss problems and issues openly and respectfully.

If you can all agree to follow a set of rules, respect one another, and make significant efforts to strengthen the bonds amongst yourselves, you should have success in maintaining a happy and supportive family. Keep educating yourself and don't expect changes to occur right away and without significant effort. Love and patience will carry you a long way.

Step Families

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