Sue Scheff: Step Families Good for Kids - Blended Families

Source: Connect with Kids

“The challenges were having my kids listen to Gladys and having her kids listen to me – they didn’t.”

– Michael Uhri, a father

Every year, the parents of one million children get divorced. And every day, 1,300 new step-families are formed. Those first days and months aren’t easy, but studies show that kids who live in step-families are happier than children whose parents never re-marry.

When Gladys and Michael decided to marry, it wasn’t just one plus one … it was four plus four. Two families of divorce were joining each other, and the kids didn’t like it.

“We didn’t get along AT ALL,” says Tiffany, now 14 years old.

“I didn’t like having a whole new family,” says Ashley, 15.

Michael’s kids resented Gladys, and her kids wouldn’t listen to him.

“They stayed in their own room a lot; they found things to do by themselves a lot,” Gladys says.

Divorce is hard enough on children, but when a divorced parent remarries, joining a new family can be an emotionally difficult experience for kids. They actually get MORE upset.

“It’s very hard for children, especially adolescents,” says Valerie Houghton, a family therapist specializing in split families.

Houghton says it’s hard for kids to understand why they’re getting moved around and getting less attention than they were. But, experts say, the longer a stepfamily is together, the more stable it becomes and the less depression the kids have.

And eventually, the children who’s parents remarry are actually happier than children who’s parents did not.

“There’s great potential,” Houghton says, “but everybody has to be on the same page. They need to provide what children basically need, which is protection, consistency, love, time.”

After five years of family meetings, vacations, fun and even arguments, Michael says what’s finally worked was that the children now believe in the commitment he and Gladys made those years ago.

“We both had vision. And that’s what’s most important. To know how it can be and should be,” Michael explains.

Tips for Parents
In the 1950’s, a date with the family meant a date with your biological mother and father. But that ideal has slowly faded. By 1972, only 73% of kids lived with their original parents, and now, barely half do. In fact, a new study reports that 1,300 new stepfamilies are being formed each day. But though this new modern family may differ from the traditional family of the past, experts are quick to point out that a sense of family is still a critical component for child rearing. The Kansas State University Cooperative Extension Service suggests teaching that “family” is defined not by the way it is structured but by what each member does for one another.

Recent research suggests that for adolescents, gender of the child can be important in determining adjustment to stepfamilies. Some research shows that pre-adolescent boys fare better in stepfamilies than divorced families, whereas pre-adolescent girls do somewhat better in divorced families than stepfamilies.

Psychologists who work with blended families urge parents to allow time to adjust to the new situation. Many children who already have experienced separation and divorce may struggle with the new reality that their old family is now permanently gone. Even when children know and like the new stepparent, still be stress for both the child and the parents can still exist. The Stepfamily Association of America offers the following suggestions for a smooth transition for your family:

■Encourage all children in the blended family to talk about their feelings.
■Make sure all children have their own space, from a bedroom to a drawer or closet.
■Involve all children in planning and helping with household responsibilities and setting family schedules.

■Kansas State University
■Stepfamily Association of America

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