NINE STEPS TOWARDS A HEALTHY STEP-FAMILY
By Jim Bird, Ph. D.
Department of Child & Family Studies,
Weber State College
1. Avoid the "Divide and Conquer" strategy employed by children.
Children are often the cementing force in troubled biological families. They are
often the trouble in non-biological stepfamilies.
Protect the couple relationship. Keep in mind the reason you got married, nurture
each other, and continue to grow.
2. Develop a sense of "WE"
Carefully consider the living arrangements. Everything being equal, it is best to
move into a neutral house.
Develop your own family traditions and rituals. Sharing common experiences tend to
bring people together. Traditions and rituals are what many memories and future anticipations
are made of.
3. Avoid the "Brady Bunch Syndrome" and don't fall prey to the "Cinderella
and Hansel and Gretel Stereotype."
Children have two parents and probably enough siblings. They usually don't want more
imposed upon them. In your attempts to "make" the stepfamily one happy
family you risk being viewed as Hansel and Gretel's parents. The blending process
takes 3 - 5 years. Be patient.
As a step-parent you should interact with your step children like you would if they
were the children of a very precious friend and you were in charge to take care of
them. You would expect responsible behavior but you probably would be careful with
what privileges you remove as a way to enforce rules.
4. Remember, the parent bond predates the couple bond.
Acknowledge it, accept it, and appreciate it. The biological parent has a history
of the child which the step-parent doesn't. Parent/child interaction patterns develop
over a period of time, for particular reasons. They don't change easily nor should
5. Apply the Serenity prayer to your relations with ex-spouses, ex-inlaws,
and ex friends.
"Grant me the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, courage to change
the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference." Divorce gives children
options that they may try to take. Furthermore, you probably cannot control how your
"ex" interacts with your children. Children are often living in two households
where there are two different expectations. It is hard on them - they certainly don't
need to get in between your disagreements with your "ex". There are some
things that you will need to accept because you have no control.
6. Respect Children. They are people too.
Take the time to understand the incredible amount of stress and disruption which
has been imposed upon them. Often they were raised in a two parent family, then a
single parent family, and, now, another two parent family. Usually all this has occurred
without their input or desire. Take time to interact and communicate with them.
7. Celebrate the individuality of each family member and the family itself.
Each person has their own individual temperament. Each person responds differently
to similar situations. Members need to set "preconceived" notions about
the "right" way to conduct a family aside. They need to develop a new "right"
way to conduct their stepfamily based on the individual needs of all members and
the whole family.
8. Do not compare a step-family with a two parent biological family.
Don't use traditional family behavior as a way to measure the "normallacy"
of a step-family. As evidenced by the above, step-families are qualitatively difference
from two biological parent families.
9. Extol the benefits which being in a step-family offers.
Not only do step-families offer many of the advantages that two biological parent
families do; such as, companionship, emotional and social support, education, recreation
and financial assistance, they also have other advantages. Some of these advantages
1. Members of stepfamilies develop creativity as they devise alternative plans for
accomplishing desired goals.
2. Because stepfamily members need to negotiate their many differences there is an
increased opportunity for intimacy.
3. Members learn effective strategies for dealing with diversity, such as negotiation,
cooperation, sharing, etc.
4. Members are exposed to various different traditions and rituals. This broadens
their appreciation for individual differences.