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Dear Dr. Allen, How to blend your step-family

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by Dr. Greg Allen

Approximately 65 percent of remarriages include children from previous marriages, which means the challenges of a past family system sometimes cross over to a new one. Knowing what to expect in a blended family can help family members address issues before they spiral out of control, or avoid these problems altogether.

The biological and the step-parent must spend time communicating regarding family rules and expectations they each have for the family. Likely, there are different lifestyles to integrate. A good goal is for each parent to accept they will have to compromise. Issues such as chores, discipline, and schedules need to be discussed and clearly communicated. 

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 It is also recommended to schedule regular family fun nights in order to create unity and build relationships. Family fun nights will create bonds that will benefit the family and help reduce the severity of issues that arise due to becoming a blended family. Everyone can contribute ideas of possible fun activities to do together.

 Bio and step-parents need to schedule individual time with each kid. Here there are two goals: the first is to do something fun together and thus strengthen relationship. The second is to create an open atmosphere in which the adult can hear from the child/teen about their concerns.

 In the same way that it is important for parents to meet together to strategize on parenting, it may be beneficial for the kids in the family to meet together and formulate their input on helpful family ideas.

Personal and family space is likely to be an issue for many blended families. There can be territorial issues for both children and adults. Compromise and cooperation are the main targets for families to aim for. 

Many blended families run into issues when it comes to different parenting styles. One parent may be laid back and lenient, while the other one is very strict. When one of the parents is out of the home, the other one is in charge, so when discipline styles don’t mesh, the children may suffer from parental inconsistency. This is an important area for parents to brainstorm together about with the goal of a consistent parental expectation. Parents do not need to reject their own personality style but they do need to consider the unhealthy effect of parental inconsistency upon the kids. 

Many step-families do blend well. The blended family actually can provide more opportunities for personal growth, achievement, and enjoyment. By emphasizing cooperation and compromise for the betterment of the family, kids can learn the important life skill of teamwork.

Dr. Greg Allen, LMFT is a therapist practicing in Palos Verdes Estates (drgregallen.com). He is also the founder and director of Freedom4U, a youth non-profit organization. (freedomcommunity.com). Freedom4U provides counselors to 20 different schools. Dr. Allen is a frequent community speaker. He may be reached at gregallen@drgregallen.com.

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