Blended families take time to bond - Catholic Courier

Blended families take time to bond

A newly married husband and wife who have children from previous marriages may be fulfilling a God-given vocation by blending their two families into one, according to Ralph Ranieri, author of the 2004 book Nurturing Your Blended Family: A Special Vocation.

“God may want them to share their love and joy with each other’s children and form a blended family,” Ranieri wrote in the first chapter of his book. “Just because these people are marrying for the second time, it does not mean that they do not have a vocation from God. Loving each other, and blending their children from a previous marriage into one family, may very well be their vocation.”

Be that as it may, the role of a stepfather or stepmother is at first often more like that of a baby-sitter than of a biological parent, according to marriage and family therapist Dr. Dennis Boike.

“You don’t parent at all like you do in a typical family,” Boike said, noting that about 20 percent of the cases he sees in his practice involve blended families.

Discipline is often one of the biggest problem areas for blended families, said Boike, who belongs to Church of the Transfiguration in Pittsford. In order to understand how discipline in a blended family should work, stepparents first need to understand how it works in a nuclear family, he added.

There are two basic reasons why anyone obeys another person, he said. The first is that there is a loving bond between them, such as is usually the case with parents and their biological children. The second reason is that one person has power over the other, such as in the case of a boss and an employee.

“Because of the bond that exists between each parent and each child (in a nuclear family), you have a situation where you can then discipline,” Boike said.

A new stepparent, however, doesn’t yet have a loving bond with his or her new stepchildren. If the stepparent tries to discipline, he or she will often have to resort to the alternative way of getting the kids to obey, in essence “pulling rank” on the child, Boike said. This can lead to a rocky relationship between stepparents and stepchildren.

New stepparents also have to realize that their spouses’ first priorities will be their biological children. A newly married mother, for example, has loved her children for a lot longer than she’s even known her new spouse, so although she is in love with him, her loyalties will most likely fall with her children.

These two factors can often lead to the demise of the second marriage, Boike said. The solution to this problem is for each new stepparent to spend time bonding with his or her new stepchildren instead of trying to discipline.

“If you don’t take the time to bond with those kids, you become the outsider,” Boike said.

This is where the role of the baby-sitter comes into play. As hard as it may be, a new stepparent should not interfere in his or her spouse’s method of parenting. If you were a baby-sitter, and you’re at a house where the children are allowed to wear their shoes inside and stay up late, you would go along with those rules, Boike said. A new stepparent should do the same thing.

It can take anywhere from a year and a half to four years to develop a loving bond between stepparent and stepchildren, depending on the ages of the children, Boike said. It is only once that bond has been formed that a stepparent can begin to discipline the stepchildren. The stepparent still should not make any new rules, Boike said, but he or she can enforce the rules the biological parent puts in place.

Eventually, the family will get to the point where either the stepparent or the biological parent can create and enforce rules for the children, Boike said. There is no way to tell how long it’ll take to get to this point, but the family members will know, he said.

“You know that if (the children) don’t accept it from you, you have not established that bond yet,” he added.

Welcoming a new member into a family sometimes comes easier for adults than for children, Ranieri said in his book.

“Welcoming a child into the family is a natural act. It may not come as easily to the child who will need time to adjust,” Ranieri said. “We need to give children the time they need to relate to us. We cannot rush relationships with children.”

A child is also more likely to accept a new stepparent if he already has a good relationship with his biological parents, Boike added. If the child is secure in these relationships, the addition of a stepparent won’t pose a loyalty conflict for him, he said. Children are also more likely to smoothly adjust to a blended-family situation if their parents get along, he said.

EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information on blended families, visit the Stepfamily Association of America’s Web site at www.saafamilies.org or the North American Conference for Separated and Divorced Catholics at www.nacsdc.org.

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