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Managing Blended Families

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Dear Debi,
My wife and I are newlyweds, and both have kids from previous relationships. Do you have any suggestions that can help bring us together as a family?
Raymond Johnson
Debi's Tips
Debi Gutierrez
Debi Gutierrez
Host
MANAGING BLENDED FAMILIES:

  • It takes time for children to accept change
  • Accept everyone's feelings
  • Devote time & attention to each child
  • Ask for assistance
Expert Advice
Stan Katz, Ph.D.
Stan Katz, Ph.D.
Psychologist
When people are getting married and planning to blend their families, one of the first things they should consider is how they're actually going to blend their family. I think that families often do it way too quickly. They introduce children too quickly and the children can become very distrusting. Remember, there's already been a fracture. Children have lost their other parent in some way in that family, so they have to really learn to develop trust. This should be done very slowly and all the topics, such as discipline and how you're going to raise that child and how you're going to deal with multiple children, need to be discussed before you really enter into the relationship.

It's also very important to check out with the other spouse how they feel about calling the new stepparent "Mom" or "Dad." We have lots of problems with children who are put into the middle of a conflict because their Mommy doesn't want stepmommy called mommy-anything. You need to be very sensitive about this. I really believe that "Mommy" and "Daddy" are titles that are reserved for mother and father. You can find all kinds of other titles to call parents. But you really have to check it out and see if it's OK.

The most important mistake that blended families make is that they give the stepparent power to discipline prematurely. Children resent it when someone, with whom they don't have a foundation of love, disciplines them. They don't have the love to buffer the actual rejection that people feel when they're disciplined. The one thing that's really important is to build the foundation of love before you take on that authority role. Now that doesn't mean the children can walk all over you. It means that you can say to them, "Put that down. Don't do that." But you're not the one to ground them, you're not the one to punish them, you're certainly not the one to spank them, ever, because they will resent it. Now, the younger the child, the easier it is because they don't have that resentment or distrust.

Remember that it often doesn't work right from the beginning. I think that people should enter counseling before they even blend the family. I think that it's really important to sit down with either your church pastor or minister, a counselor at a community center, or a psychologist and talk about the challenges of blending your particular family. Sit down with a professional and talk about little things such as, "What do we do at Christmas? How do we give the presents? How do we deal with one child who gets to go for a special weekend with her father while the other children don't?" You have to talk about all these things and you need professional guidance.
Child Care Provider Comments
Fred Hodge
Fred Hodge
Grandfather of five
We used to do a lot of babysitting. We would put a lot into the grandkids - playing ball, talking about school and girls and their future. We talked about how to respect one another. We made a lot of time to talk with the kids.
Verdis Ferraro
Verdis Ferraro
Child care provider for 23 years
I think that it is important to take an active interest in the children. It is hard because they always see you as the other woman or step-mom. They will learn to like you if you take an interest in them and share their life. Get them to talk and open up. Find things that they like to do. Include them in your circle by asking them help to help cook dinner, or take a walk, or watch a movie. You should find quality time alone with the child without the other parent present. Make them feel important in the family circle. Sometimes, they don't like to listen to the other parent and will pit one parent against the other. If you form a relationship with them outside of the father, then they can like you as a person.
Parent Comments
Dijon Bishop
Dijon Bishop
Dad in a blended family
There is also the issue of the other parent of the children. My oldest son is by another female, but my wife's two kids were from two different guys. So, not only did I have to deal with everything else, I had to deal with two other men and them wanting to have their particular space in my household. That made it hard. As a man, you want to control and dominate your environment. Here were two other men that want input on things happening in your house. There was a lot of arguing and stressful situations.
Rochelle Bishop
Rochelle Bishop
Mom in a blended family
I think the kids are still adjusting. Just when they think they have things down, something takes place. We just moved, so that is a new experience. We are in the middle of an adjustment period. Everyone has his or her own room now. It is continually evolving. I don't think there is ever a point in a blended family when you aren't making changes.
Leticia Campbell
Leticia Campbell
Stepmother to three boys
One challenge for me was with the biological mother. The biggest concern was that she would think that I was trying to take her place. She and I do not communicate. If she wants to talk to me, then she is more than welcome to come talk to me in a civil way. I am an open door for that. Other than that, I try to back off and stay away. I let the kids know that I am not trying to take their mother's place. Their mom will always be their mom, but they can come to me at any time. I will always be there for them.

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