Making healthy stepfamilies

Losses can be mourned

By the time of a second marriage, it is often a child's third family unit. The first being the biological parents' marriage, the second being a separate or single family unit and the third being the new relationship which involves a stepparent. Children need parental permission and understanding to grieve these losses, before embracing the new family system. Failure to accept mourning as a natural feeling may result in angry outbursts and potential alienation. One way to build relationships at this transitional time, is to allow stepparent-child relationships to be initially more distant. Eventually, if given the space to express themselves and resolve past loss, children do show genuine interest or liking for this new person who has been brought into their home. Children will eventually respond to the health and love present in the couples' relationship over time, as they do want their parents to be happy.

Parents also suffer loss, particularly if their own biological children are not living with them. Loyalty to previous members who used to live under one roof can make it a difficult process to bond to new members, but given time and respect for each others' feelings and boundaries, these bonds do grow. Relationships become what they are meant to be. A small child will tend towards accepting the stepparent in a parental role differently than a teenager. Coming into a teenager's life may involve more of a friendship, depending on the individuals and needs involved, while coming into a family with a one-year-old will usually require parental nurturance and attachment similar to that of a primary parent.

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