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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Managing Your Step Family

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned sharing articles on combined families. This is the first half of an excellent article I just discovered. I'll post the second half in a couple of days, so please check back.

Managing Your Step Family

By Garrett Coan, Psychotherapist

If you are a member of a stepfamily, you know how difficult it can be to integrate all of the new members and adjust to the new boundaries and rules. The following ideas may help you make a successful transition during this challenging process.

Have patience

Establishing new families takes time. Just because you love your new partner, it is unrealistic to think that you will automatically love his or her children.

It is equally unrealistic to expect that your new partner’s children will instantly love you. It can be difficult to accept that even though you wish to have a relationship with your stepchildren, they may not be ready for a relationship with you.

Expect to adjust

With proper help and guidance, children can recover from family disruption. All children experience a difficult adjustment period following a divorce or remarriage.

It takes time

It takes time, patience, and perhaps some professional assistance, but most children are able to regain their emotional bearings. It is critical that the adults manage their own emotional recovery in order to help the children adjust without trauma.

If you are part of a part-time stepfamily, you may need a longer adjustment period. All relationships take time to grow and develop. When stepchildren see you less often, you have less time to get to know each other. This is why it may take a part-time stepfamily longer to move through the adjustment process.

Don’t expect your new family to be like your first family

If you expect that your stepfamily will be just like the family of your first marriage, you are setting yourself up for frustration. Your new family will have its own unique identity and will evolve in its own special way.

Expect confusion

Forming a stepfamily is a confusing time for everyone. Think about how confusing it is for a child to become part of two new families. All of the family members—parents and children—must learn to understand the new structure and learn to navigate the boundaries.

Allow time for grieving

Stepfamilies begin with an experience of loss, and everyone needs to grieve. The adults’ losses are not the same as those of the children, and both must be respected. Adults grieve the following losses:

  • The loss of a partner
  • The loss of a marriage relationship
  • Lost dreams of the way they thought it would be
  • They must adjust to changes that result from the divorce or death (moving to a new house, starting a new job, adjusting to changes in lifestyle, etc.)
  • Children grieve, too. Their losses are usually different from those of their parents:
  • They may now be living with one parent instead of two.
  • They may have less time with one or both parents during times of dating and remarriage.
  • There may be less stability in their homes.
  • They must adjust to changes that result from the divorce or death. (They may have a new place to live and go to a new school; they may have lost friends in this process.)
  • They have lost the fantasy of how they wanted their family to be.

Children have an especially difficult time resolving their grief when their parents are hostile with one another, when one or both of their parents remarry, and if they have trouble accepting their new stepparents.


Garrett Coan is a professional therapist, coach and psychotherapist. His two Northern New Jersey office locations are accessible to individuals who reside in Bergen County, Essex County, Passaic County, Rockland County, and Manhattan. He offers online and telephone coaching and counseling services for those who live at a distance. He can be accessed through http://www.creativecounselors.com or 201-303-4303.

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