Don’t Just Survive – Thrive! Eight Tips for Stepfamilies

With divorce, single-parent households and family crises on the rise, many people are experiencing the tumultuous dynamics of blended or stepfamilies. National statistics indicate that the divorce rate for first marriages is fifty percent. That rate increases to more than sixty percent for second marriages due in part to the unique issues associated with raising non-biological children. To ensure successful blending of your family, consider the following tips:

  1. All the parents should come to a common understanding to promote healthy development of the children. This meeting of the minds is best served prior to marriage. Choose a neutral setting to collectively establish expectations about visitation, discipline, house rules, family gatherings, etc. Put the expectations in writing and have each parent sign them. This document, the parental agreement, will help to minimize opportunities to disrupt your family. Once the agreement is established, hold a gathering with the parents and children. Explain the expectations, the rewards for adherence and the penalties for noncompliance. If the parents use this forum to affirm each other, the children will see the parents as a united front and not pawns to be manipulated. For reinforcement, post the expectations on the refrigerator and refer to them often. Leave nothing to chance. The parents should plan to reconvene at least annually to assess the effectiveness of the plan and make adjustments when necessary. If your situation is not conducive to a meeting of all the parents, make sure that you and your mate create an agreement. Otherwise, outsiders may attempt to dictate the way you manage your home and if you give them power, you relinquish your own. How can two walk together except they agree? Amos 3:3
  2. Since all is fair in love and war - and if you don't plan ahead, you'll have more war than love - treat each child the same, whether biological or step. Showing favoritism or "bending the rules" for one child or sibling group can create an abyss of jealousy and struggle. Preferential treatment causes an imbalance that leads to frustration and insecurity for both the slighted children and parents. God has no respect of person and neither should we.
  3. Hold regular family meetings to provide each member an opportunity to openly share concerns without fear of rejection or retaliation. Establish meeting norms like round-table discussions, note taking and one person speaks at a time to ensure effective communication. To minimize interruptions, use a stuffed animal as the cue to speak. The person who has possession of the toy has the floor.
  4. Schedule non-competitive activities. As the family attempts to bond into a cohesive unit, each member tries to establish his or her position. This jockeying can create competitive tension that hinders growth. Plan family outings - a walk in the park, a trip to the zoo or movie night at home - that neutralize the tension. Allow each child to choose from a couple of options and require everyone to participate. These activities will create family traditions that will be honored for years. In addition to group activities, spend quality time with each child on an individual basis. For example, commit Saturday mornings to one-on-one breakfast dates where the child selects the restaurant. The interaction can help foster communication and break down the barriers that may stifle the relationship.
  5. Whether chaos is prevalent or peace has settled on your family, solicit the services of a professional counselor. This process allows each member to express his or her feelings to an unbiased person. Some children harbor resentment toward the new parent or blame themselves for the separation of their biological parents. Understanding their motives will help you see the family dynamic from another perspective and the illumination can cultivate cooperation.
  6. Spend quality time with each child on an individual basis. For example, commit Saturday mornings to one-on-one breakfast dates where the child selects the restaurant. The interaction can help foster communication and break down the barriers that may stifle the relationship.
  7. Plan couple time away from the children. Nurturing the relationship that created the blended dynamic is essential. Schedule visitations so that all of the children are gone at the same time. Using this quiet time to refresh the marriage helps to ensure a peaceful, loving atmosphere for the family. A threefold cord is not quickly broken. Ecclesiastes 4:12
  8. Pray. Pray for all of the children. Pray for the extended family. Pray for the other parents. Pray for your mate. Pray for yourself. This experience is a proving of your faith in God. If you truly love the Lord with all of your heart, mind, body and soul, then you'll be able to look past your own hurt and see that others are hurting too. Your example can mean the difference in winning a soul to the Lord.
The blending process may not be easy, but if you plan ahead, communicate daily with your mate and develop a consistent prayer life, your family will not just survive, but thrive. There's a blessing in the blending!
Diva Toolbox Contributor and bestselling author of Blended Families An Anthology (ISBN-13: 978-0-9786066-0-2), Valerie J. Lewis Coleman has helped thousands of families navigate the challenges of child support, visitation, discipline and more. With over twenty years of experience in family and relationships, this expert has given advice on varying issues including baby-momma drama, defiant children and disapproving in-laws. On her journey to assist others with building strong families, she shares her personal testimony and practical tools to help you stop the stepfamily madness in your home! To learn more about Valerie, her books and overcoming relational matters, visit ValerieJLColeman.com