It may be no surprise that stepfamilies have become one of the most common family forms in our country. Thousands of stepfamilies are formed each year in the United States. Stepfamilies have existed for many generations. Today, most stepfamilies are created after a divorce.
“Blended,” “remarried,” or “combined,” are all names applied to this type of family. A stepfamily is a family in which one of the adults has a child or children from a previous relationship. The children may still be living at home or they might be on their own. While stepfamilies deal with common family matters, they also face special concerns.
Stepparents have a ready-made family from the very beginning. The new family has to learn to live together. Then there are former spouses, grandparents, grandchildren, and current and former in-laws who will need to adjust to the new stepfamily. Perhaps others, including friends, teachers, clergy, or neighbors, the cast of characters Dr. Robin Smith refers to bringing to the ‘marriage table’ – in her book Lies at the Altar – The Truth About Great Marriages. There are many steps to creating a successful stepfamily.
A strong couple relationship is an important part of forming a strong stepfamily. Couples need to develop a plan to build and maintain a strong, caring relationship. Parents may feel guilty about giving attention to the new mate rather than the children. But research has shown that parent-child relationships strongly impact the wellbeing of a stepfamily. A strong couple who works as a team has less risk of dissolving their relationship than couples who are pulled into power struggles against each other. Each partner needs to know when the other feels like an outsider and work to help decrease that feeling. Effective communication and time for problem solving, romance and recreation are as essential for stepfamily couples as they are for all couples. Dealing effectively with the child’s absent parent and other relatives is a critical factor in the day-to-day life of the couple. Child support, visitation and holiday schedules involve teamwork and support from the new couple. They may find that professional advice is needed when deeper problems are recognized in the relationship. Seeking help from a trained therapist, clergyperson, or social worker experienced in working with stepfamilies is desirable.
Stepping Stones for Stepfamilies is a resource from Johnson County K-State Research and Extension that includes a six-lesson home study course, a teaching guide with video/DVD and participant fact sheets, as well as a comprehensive training manual for community family life educators. Please contact our office for more information about how to use these materials for your own family or if you would like to share the information within your organization.