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Building Strong Stepfamilies

The Youth, Family, and Community Sciences graduate program publishes a monthly blog written by students and alumni sharing important topics and helpful resources related to the field of family science. In the latest post, Rhonda Peters provides positive parenting techniques to help ease major family transitions.

Building Strong Stepfamilies

All students and instructors know that our lives extend far beyond the computer screens, textbooks and papers. Many of us are parents, hold full-time jobs, and have relationships with significant others — causing our plates to become very full, very fast. Throw in an extra couple of pandemics to the mix, and our balancing act becomes even harder!

Building strong families is challenging work for every family, no matter how it is built or who makes up the family. Although every family is different, research has shown that many families struggle with raising their children together. Discipline is certainly a big issue and stepfamilies commonly struggle with determining what the rules in the house should be, how children should behave and what should be expected of them.

Many people, especially women, prefer to avoid any type of conflict in an effort to maintain the peace, but by dealing with issues instead of running from them, you can actually set the stage for a happier household overall. Strong stepfamilies are not those that successfully avoid conflicts, but are those that are able to meet these challenges with communication, love and support, which helps them to create resolutions that work for everyone.

You probably know by experience that most adolescents have a hard time with any kind of change. Teenagers are much more vulnerable than younger children during major family transitions, like the merging of stepfamilies. You can help ease this transition by practicing positive parenting techniques.

  • Don’t Start Off Too Strict. Stepparents really should not start off as strict disciplinarians. Authoritarian style parenting really isn’t recommended for any family structure, but research has shown that it is particularly harmful for new stepfamily relationships.
  • Connect, Then Correct. Instead, parents should consider using a “Connect Then Correct” motto, focusing on building a relationship with the children before ever attempting to change behaviors.
  • Communicate Openly and Warmly. Try not to discuss problems when you are angry, but be sure your children and stepchildren know you are always ready to talk AND listen anytime they are ready.
  • Family Meetings. Having regular family meetings is a good way to define household rules and address issues and concerns in a positive way.
  • Be Willing to Compromise. Remember that it’s okay for parents to give in on some things. Children need to know that parents are willing to compromise with them, just like they’re expected to compromise with parents. Take some time to determine what things are non-negotiable, but practice being flexible about other issues.
  • Create New Traditions. What types of activities did all of you enjoy before getting married? Forming new family traditions is a powerful way to build a strong foundation for your stepfamily.
  • Family Education Programs. To further enhance family relationships, consider taking part in family education programs, some of which can even be found online.
  • Work With a Family Coach. Working with family life coaches can help a family meet goals and improve family functioning through a strength-based approach.

Most of all, remember that children are quite resilient and that most stepfamilies can and do build strong and healthy relationships.

Additional Resources:

This post was originally published in Online and Distance Education News.