All in the family: stepfamily’s seldom easy

Creating family time, Carol believes, has helped all the children grow closer. “We have rituals, like family movie night and game night,” she says. “And we’ve created new traditions, like taking family vacations and picking out a gigantic Christmas tree every year.” (For other tips, see “Steps to Success.”)

Developing closeness takes time, Einstein agrees–a lot more time than people may realize. But she urges teens to talk about their feelings and their expectations. If you treat a new stepparent the way you’d like to be treated, the relationship is more likely to get off to a good start.

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Einstein also encourages teens to ask questions. When two families come together, there will be misunderstandings. Some people think nothing of walking into a sibling’s room and borrowing a shirt. Others expect a knock on the door and want to be asked before someone uses their stuff. “You’ll be better able to deal with the new situation if you understand the rules and expectations up front,” Einstein says. “This means talking about them until they are clear.”

Like any relationship, stepfamilies can have ups and downs. A key to making things work is communication; don’t be afraid to share your feelings. And realize one benefit of being part of a stepfamily: Now there are more people in the world who care about you.

!Think About It …

What are some suggestions in the article that you can use, even if you aren’t part of a stepfamily?

Benefits of Blended Families

We asked teens what they liked best about being part of a stepfamily.

Paige R. (13): “We have new adventures with my stepdad, Wally. He even taught me how to playsoftball.”

Mark * (15): “There’s more people to hang out with and be friendly with–or to talk to when I’m feeling down.”

Sophia * (16): “With five kids in the house, you can always find someone who wants to do what you want to do– there’s also more people you can pawn someone off on if you want to be left alone!”

* Names have been changed

Steps to Success

Got a new parent, and maybe new siblings? The best way to develop any new relationship is to get to know a person better over time. Here are some helpful techniques you can try out in your new family.

Take time to talk. Set aside a special time, such as after dinner, when family members share their favorite things–foods, movies, and music, suggests Elizabeth Einstein from the National Stepfamily Resource Center. “With everybody in your first fatuity, you know all that, you’ve grown up with it,” she explains. “In a situation with brand-new people, you don’t know anything about them.”

Get a visual. Create a family scrapbook or photo album. If there’s a wedding, including pictures from it–and before–is a good place to stair, Einstein recommends. As the years pass, you can add to your new family history.

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Pass the peas, please. Plan at least one meal per week when every-one in the family can sit at the table together, urges Emily Bouchard, a family therapist and founder of the Web site Blended-Families.com. “That’s a good time to play a game I call high/low,” she says, “where everyone talks about the best thing that happened to them that week and the worst.”

Express yourself. Both Einstein and Bouchard recommend creating an “issues” box or jar. If some thing’s bothering you, write it down on a piece of paper and slip it into the jar. After dinner, one slip of paper is pulled out of the jar and the issue is discussed. Everyone in the family then works to, ether to discover the best way to deal with the problem.

Key Points

1. There are many types of families, and one type is the stepfamily, or blended family.

2. It’s normal for teens in step-families to have feelings such as anger, sadness, or confusion.

3. Developing a sense of family closeness takes time.

4. Families can grow closer by spending time together doing fun activities, eating meals, creating photo albums, and talking.

Critical Thinking

What are some suggestions in the article that you can use, even if you aren’t part of a stepfamily?

Extension Activity

Divide the class into small groups. Then, using some of the problems and solutions cited in the article, as well as others the students brainstorm together, have them write skits depicting the conflicts that stepfamilies often face.

Students can then act out the skits and learn from one another.

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