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Step Families

Stepfamily Problems

A new stepfamily faces many challenges. Stepfamily members have experienced important losses. They have no shared family histories or shared ways of doing things, and they may have very different beliefs. As with any achievement, developing good stepfamily relationships requires a lot of effort.

A youngster may feel torn between the parents he or she lives with, and the "divorced" parent who lives somewhere else. In addition, newly married couples may not have enough time alone to adjust to their new relationship.

If these challenges are faced creatively, members of the "blended" family can help build strong bonds among themselves through:

  • Mourning their losses
  • Developing new skills in making decisions as a family
  • Fostering and strengthening new relationships between parents, as well as stepparent-to-stepchild and stepsibling-to-stepsibling; and
  • Supporting one another in maintaining original parent-child relationships

While facing these issues may be difficult, most stepfamilies do work out their problems by consulting grandparents, clergy, support groups and other community-based programs. But parents should consider getting counselling help when any family member feels:

  • Alone dealing with the losses;
  • Torn between two parents or two households;
  • Excluded;
  • Isolated by feelings of guilt and anger;
  • Unsure about what is right, or
  • Uncomfortable with any member of the original family or stepfamily.

The following signs, if they are lasting or persistent, also suggest the need for counselling help:

  • The child vents his or her anger upon a particular family member
  • One of the parents suffers from great stress and is unable to help with the child's increased needs and anger.
  • A stepparent or parent openly favours one of the children, or a child resents a stepparent or parent.
  • Only the natural parent, not the stepparent, is in charge of disciplining the child.
  • Any member of the family gets no enjoyment from normally pleasurable activities such as learning, going to school, working, playing, or being with friends or family.

Most stepfamilies--when given the needed time to work on developing their own traditions and to form new relationships--can provide emotionally rich and lasting relationships for the adults, and help the children develop the self-esteem and strength to enjoy the challenges of life.

If you would like any further information about this topic, the Social Worker at your child`s school is available for consultation.

For more information on resources for Step Families, contact Families in Transition.

The content of this article is partially derived from an article written by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

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