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Blending Families

There's at least one thing parents and stepchildren often have in common. Each thinks the other is from another planet. And it's not a bad analogy, considering a child coming into a new family is much like an explorer who's landed on a remote and not necessarily friendly planet.

Suddenly, he or she has to compete with aliens, in the form of new siblings, for attention, status, and space.

So how do you make an alien environment a home?

Be patient. Research shows it takes anywhere from two to seven years for stepfamilies to stabilize. Don't push for closeness. Don't have unrealistic expectations that once stable, your blended family will bear any resemblance to The Brady Bunch.

Step Parenting: Don't make assumptions

Don't assume your stepchildren are looking for another Mom or Dad. If the children are young, something akin to a parent-child relationship may develop over time. You'll do best with older children and teens, however, by trying to build a friendly relationship such as they might have with an aunt or uncle. You might grow to be their pal, but no one replaces a parent.

Be a Parent to your Own Children

You can't force a child to love a stepparent, but you can insist that each treats the other with courtesy and respect. And it's up to the biological parent to make sure this expectation is enforced. The same is true for the thorny issue of discipline, especially with older children. When the stepparent must discipline, it's best to assume the role of adult-in-charge, not parent.

Define the Step-Parenting Roles

You're not my parent, you can't tell me what to do." But the child needs to know you are the person his or her parent has chosen to be with. You help set the rules for the household and as co-head of the household, you need to see that they are followed.

One on One time with Kids

Create opportunities to spend time with your stepchild, preferably in their world. Drive them to school; volunteer to help with extracurricular activities. Finally, don't get frustrated. The overwhelming majority of blended families are successful with children who grow into stable and successful adults.

Parenting Coach

Engage the services of a parenting coach to help you and your family through the rough spots. Sometimes just an hour with a professional can give you advice and tips you didn't think of to make the blended family transition easier for everyone.