Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Parenting Tips for the Remarried...

Parenting after Remarriage... Many of today’s families will experience the challenges brought about by remarriage. When there are children involved, whether they are resident or visit only periodically, “his, hers, or theirs,” stepfamily dynamics are likely to be very different because of the often unspoken expectations each side brings to the new unit. Here are a few observations that may give you some insight into stepfamily interactions and some tips that may help you with your future parenting efforts. Using a term like “blended family” may be trendy, but it is inaccurate and sometimes hurtful. It can set up unrealistic expectations and make the necessary adjustments more difficult than they need to be. Stepfamilies do not “blend”; the children in these families do not lose their individuality or their emotional attachment to the non-custodial parent. The new unit does not wipe away prior relationships and usually does not sever all connections to the absent parent. Children in these families may actively resist any inference that the stepfamily is to be considered their primary family and thus entitled to their full attention and loyalty. 1. It is preferable if the original parents can agree on basic rules of behavior and adhere to them in both residences, but if that ideal is beyond possibility at this moment, do not give up on setting rules for the new household in which YOU are operating. 2. Children are capable of learning and functioning under differing sets of rules in different circumstances. You need only think of children involved in sports to realize this truth. Children use one set of rules to play baseball, another set for football, another set for basketball and yet another set for soccer or volleyball. Most individuals are capable of recognizing that different types of apparel are worn when they go to different environments – religious services vs. the swimming pool vs. a dressy or formal celebration at school. Switching between custodial and non-custodial households can also be routine if you plan for it in advance and structure your own rules accordingly. 3. Remember that a stepfamily will generally not function like a traditional family. Seek out sources of information or educational opportunities that will help you understand the multiple dynamics that operate in stepfamily situations. (Educational handouts are available as well as the opportunity to schedule a group workshop series on this topic. Contact your local cdooperative extension office or land-grant university). 4. Realize that in the new stepfamily unit, there will be inevitable conflicts. The best way to deal with this potential hazard is for the parent and the new partner to jointly establish expectations of behavior that will apply in the new household. Deal with any conflicts promptly. 5. Remember that there are no ex-parents – only ex-spouses. You are a parent forever. Whether you are part of the custodial or non-custodial household unit, do not abdicate your parental obligation to maintain discipline. Children need guidelines and boundaries for their behavior, and it is natural for children to test those boundaries, whether they are residing within their original family or in a stepfamily environment. Without appropriate boundaries, they are at much greater risk of growing up to become undisciplined adolescents / adults. 6. Establish structure immediately. Reinstate the Four R’s – Roles, Rules, Responsibility, and Respect. The new couple needs to jointly establish these expectations, or the stepfamily household will become chaotic because of lack of leadership. 7. Establish a clear and precise schedule of visitation dates and times, etc. For young children, fifteen minutes of lateness feels like hours. Children of divorce have lots of issues with abandonment – waiting for a parent reminds the children of the old feelings of loss and further abandonment. Be on time and keep your promises to the children. 8. Be civil when dealing with your ex – he or she is still the children’s parent! Set up co-parenting agreements in writing. Be clear about all arrangements; be polite and consistent. Re-evaluate arrangements as school semesters and obligations change; re-evaluate the schedule again before summer vacation. Handle re-evaluations in advance – not at the last minute – everyone will benefit if upcoming schedules have a relative predictability. 9. Do not use the children as messengers for anything. Don’t pump the children for information after visits. If the children say, “Oh, dad let us stay up until 3 AM watching a movie,” you might say, “That is not what I would allow in my house, but dad makes the rules in his house.” 10. Don’t speak poorly of the other parent. It damages your children. It leads to confusion and conflicted feelings within the children. Use some emotional etiquette whenever relating to your ex within hearing of your children. Be civil and respectful. Be a good role model for desired manners or behavior. The children should NOT experience your negative feelings about your ex. If they ask you specific questions, respond to them in a truthful but neutral manner. When they are older, they will be better able to appreciate your mature approach to the relationship with their other parent(s) and their own feelings as children. The children know they have divided loyalties, and each parent must accept the reality that their children have “lots” of parents now. If both adults in the original family remarry or reside with other adult partners, the children are actually part of two distinct stepfamily units. They are no longer going to be part of a ‘traditional’ family structure; thinking in terms of an ‘expanded family model’ or an ‘extended family model’ will be more helpful to all involved. (Sources: Original articles from Better Kid Care Program, Penn State University; Jeannette Lofas, CSW, for Family Information Services, Minneapolis, MN; and Robert Hughes, Jr., Ph.D., Ohio State University.)

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