With the high incidence of divorce and the changing structure of families in the United States, there are increasing numbers of step-families. New step-families face many challenges. As with any achievement, developing good step-family relationships requires a lot of effort. Step-family members have each experienced losses and face complicated adjustments to the new family situation.
When a step-family is formed, the members have no shared family histories or shared ways of doing things, and they may have very different beliefs. In addition, a child may feel torn between the parent they live with most of the time and their other parent who they visit (e.g. lives somewhere else). Also, newly married couples may not have had much time together to adjust to their new relationship. The members of the new blended family need to build strong bonds among themselves through the following:
- acknowledging and mourning their losses;
- developing new skills in making decisions as a family;
- fostering and strengthening new relationships between: parents, stepparent and stepchild, and step-siblings;
- supporting one another;
- maintaining and nurturing original parent-child relationships.
While facing these issues may be difficult, most step-families do work out their problems. Step-families often use grandparents (or other family), clergy, support groups, and other community-based programs to help with the adjustments. Parents should consider an evaluation for their child when they exhibit the following feelings:
- being alone in dealing with the losses;
- torn between two parents or two households;
- isolated by feelings of guilt and anger;
- unsure about what is right;
- very uncomfortable with any member of the original family or step-family.
In addition, if parents observe that the following signs are lasting or persistent, they should consider a an evaluation and possible treatment for the child/family:
- child vents/directs anger upon a particular family member or openly resents a stepparent or parent;
- one of the parents suffers from great stress and is unable to help with the child's increased needs;
- a step-parent or parent openly favors one of the children;
- discipline of a child is only left to the parent rather than involving both the stepparent and parent;
- members of the family derive no enjoyment from usual pleasurable activities (i.e., learning, going to school, working, playing or being with friends and family).
Some child and family therapist are trained to provide comprehensive evaluations of both the child and family and help families to resolve these issues everyday. At the Counseling Corner we have therapists available to assist your family with these issues.
Most step-families, when given the necessary 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. Don't let anything get in the way of achieving this goal. Having a professional guide through this process can really make all the difference. At the Counseling Corner we have professionals who can provide this service for you and your family.