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Ways to Stabilize Blended Families
The cultural revolution that began in the 20th century gradually weakened the family’s survival as a unit. Families are torn apart by divorce, death or abandonment. A balanced family environment is essential for the normal development of children. Modern society views marriage with bitter condemnation and increases its instability. In such situations, “blended families” or “step families” have a difficult responsibility to keep their new family viable.
“Blended family” is a term that has been around for probably the last fifty years. Death or divorce of a partner may lead the surviving partner to remarry. Sometimes both partners may be married before and have children of their own. When two such families merge, the number of people living under the same roof increases. There is potential for tension and conflict. The stepparent is seen as an intruder because of the preconceived notions perpetuated by the ‘stepparent myth’. If the situation is not handled diplomatically and patiently, the failure rate will increase. When children become teenagers or young adults, the problem becomes more difficult.
Strong husband-wife bond is so important.
• Parents should understand that they have ‘partnership parentage’, regardless of which spouse the children are biologically. They must present a united front at all times, especially on matters of discipline. There should be no difference between ‘my children’ or ‘your children’, because they are now ‘our children’. Children notice biases quickly.
• Differences or quarrels between husband and wife should never take place in the presence of children, as they will do their best to sow discord between the parents in the hope of driving away the intruder. Staying united will send a message that the relationship is worth maintaining. The sooner they realize this, the faster they will blend in.
• Children must have rules and boundaries. Consistency in applying discipline is important. But threats or ultimatums or corporal punishment should not be resorted to.
• Building confidence is important. Children should be reassured that the new person will not replace the biological parent. Many young children suffer from guilt, fearing that they were instrumental in breaking up their biological parents’ marriage. They resent the pain, and hope for reconciliation. Such children will resist intruders as much as possible. Only patience and love on the part of step parents can change this situation.
• Helps to enhance communication between family members. It won’t happen overnight. Some say it can take up to seven years for a blended family to fully integrate. The best way is to be available to children and involve them in various activities. Family time should be all inclusive. No one should feel left out. Verbal expressions of appreciation and affection will go a long way. Children express their frustration by acting cheeky or argumentative. It is pointless to engage in fighting games with them. However, certain misbehavior should not be tolerated. Punishment should follow the crime. The purpose of punishment is not to express one’s anger but to correct wrong behavior. It should be commensurate with the age of the child and the seriousness of the offence. Deprivation of facilities like watching TV, using mobile, playing with friends is enough of a deterrent.
Forgiveness should be quick and should not be repeated when angry.
• A parent in an intact family should not tolerate disrespect towards his partner and should immediately correct such behavior by his children.
• Parents should ensure that they spend time alone together without disturbing the children, so that they can strengthen their own relationship. Going out together for a movie or dinner or even a long walk will also enhance togetherness.
• Beware of grandparents or relatives whose influence can be divisive and detrimental to family ties.
Children in blended families need:
– They must feel loved and accepted.
– They need safety and security. Children of blended families should not fear being replaced in the affections of their biological parents.
– Address their problems and needs in a compassionate manner. Children grieving for their lost parent should be given sufficient time to grieve their loss.
– They must give access to the parent from whom they are separated Derogatory comments about an absent parent should not be made in their presence.
– Children need a patient, listening ear.
Children below the age of ten usually accept the situation after some time and adapt easily. Adolescents can be more resistant and rude and sensitive to intruders. They are reluctant to submit to discipline and may even incite younger siblings to rebel. Adolescents become apathetic and uncommunicative, often exhorting the new parent to say, “You have no legal rights over me.”
Stepmothers have a harder time than stepfathers. Boys accept stepfathers better than stepmothers. Girls can be uncomfortable and suspicious about them. They may make false allegations of sexual abuse, with the intention of turning one parent against the other.
Before separation, divorce or remarriage, children should be prepared for what is about to happen. They should answer their questions honestly and allay their fears. Whenever possible, they should meet and get to know new partners.
In the case of divorce or separation, one parent may have physical custody of the child, while the other only has visitation rights. Separated parents should not speak ill of each other in the presence of their children. They shouldn’t default to visits but they should try to make every visit enjoyable, so that it’s something the kids look forward to. Biological parents must make joint decisions with their children’s best interests in mind. Sharing information about problems with their lives and activities, or their health or behavior, will reassure children about their concerns.
Blended families call for teamwork. Success depends on the time, energy and goodwill between them. Not all blended families are dysfunctional. Nor can stepfamilies be blamed for all criminal behavior. It can also occur in intact families.
‘Witch’ as a stepmother is a false label that needs to be forgotten.
There is a world of truth in the saying ‘the family that prays together stays together’.
Godly parents can be good role models.
“Be patient, be gentle and humble, longsuffering in love to one another,” the Bible advises. This can be a recipe for success for blended families.
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