John Rosemond, a nationally syndicated columnist and author of many parenting books, recently wrote an article about step-families. I met John about 10 years ago after he agreed to write a forward for our first book. I like his practical down to earth style and agree with much of what he writes.
His article, “Today’s step-families have little or no sense of family,” concerns the high divorce rate of step-families. John believes that one of the reasons that so many marriages involving blended families end in divorce has to do with confusing and undefined roles in the new family.
He claims that the majority of mental health professionals, including famous media mental health personalities such as Dr. Phil and Dr. Laura (I’m not the famous Dr. Laura), recommend that stepparents stay out of disciplining their stepchildren. John writes that stepparents who follow that advice “create an us-and-them family that isn’t really a family at all.”
I agree with John to a large extent. I think that both adults should be in charge of children who live in their home. The adult partnership should set up the rules of the household and the children should follow them. Ideally, that partnership communicates regularly and openly about the discipline as well as nurturance of all children involved. Apparently that worked out well for John Rosemond, who details his own experience of growing up in a blended family in his article.
Unfortunately, not everyone is blessed with good common sense and foresight when it comes to relationships. Good, caring people sometimes overlook potential problems during the optimism created by a new love. They have hope of combining families and may not have all of the conversations that they should have prior to making a commitment. People are, after all, human and make mistakes.
One of the most common mistakes occurs when one or both parents become hypersensitive and defensive about any discipline, limit setting, or perceived unfairness on the part of the non-biological parent. It’s all too easy for many people to respond reflexively and defend their own kids. Another common problem occurs when an “ex,” who is the biological parent interferes with or sabotages the new relationship. Finally, adolescents often present special challenges to a new blended family; thus, they may rebel in response to a change in living situation.
In other words, John’s advice is good for the most part. However, when defensiveness and other complications happen, the couple needs to step back and talk about what’s going on. Failing success at that, they should seek family therapy and counseling to work these issues out. Some cases may even call for designating a specific parent to handle limit setting and discipline issues. Blending families is not for the weak of heart. It takes lots of work, communication, and courage. Good luck and take care.