Q: My wife and I are both divorced and trying to raise a blended family. Is there any advice you can give me on how to help our children bond with our spouse?
Juli: The wedding ceremony may have made you a blended family, but developing those deep bonds of connection takes a lot more time. Ron Deal, founder of Successful Stepfamilies, offers the best advice that I've ever come across.
He encourages stepparents to be very careful about trying to hard too develop a parent-child relationship. Although stepparents have authority in the home, much like teachers do in a classroom, the affection and connection associated with "Mom" or "Dad" takes a long time to form and may never form. Deal recommends that you let the kids set the pace for the relationship.
Resist the urge to speed up the relationship-building process by buying big gifts or insisting on lots of one-on-one time. Children who are in the midst of adjusting to divorce and remarriage have a lot of mixed feelings and confusion about loyalties and how much to love each adult in their lives. Don't ever try to replace your stepchildren's biological mom or dad or be critical of them. One of the most wonderful things you can do for your stepchildren is give them permission to love all of the adults in their lives.
It is also wise to allow the biological parents to do the majority of the active parenting, like discipline and enforcing consequences. Although both parents are involved in rule setting, the biological parent should do the heavy lifting, particularly early on.
For more tips on thriving as a stepfamily, you will want to check out www.successfulstepfamilies.com.
Q: I thought life would slow down when school ended for the summer, but it seems like our family is running faster than ever. My husband's work schedule is relentless, and I've taken on a part-time job. And we're always running the kids to various summer activities. I don't think they even consider this a "break," and I'm afraid all of the activity is going to have a negative impact on them.
Jim: As parents, it often seems like we're running at a constant sprint. From the minute our feet hit the floor in the morning, it's a race to get to work, get the kids ready, take them to where they need to be, and then start checking off the long list of appointments in our daily planner. And then we do it all again tomorrow.
We live lives of stress, and that can impact our kids. They see us running around in a constant state of panic, and they pick up on it. Many children become stressed themselves in this kind of environment, and will carry that stress into their adult lives.
The American Academy of Pediatrics released a study showing that today's children are much more stressed, busy and even depressed than ever before. The research shows that we aren't giving our kids enough time to simply play and relax. And they're certainly not going to learn how to do it by watching their overcommitted parents.
I'm not suggesting that you neglect your responsibilities. But it would be a good idea to find some creative ways to slow down -- not just during these summer months, but all year. For your own health, as well as that of your kids, make sure that rest and relaxation are a part of your family's routine. Depending on their age, your kids might already be firmly entrenched in the "always running" mentality. It's up to you and your husband to help them reset the pace. We all need a little down time once in a while!
Dr. Juli Slattery is a licensed psychologist, co-host of Focus on the Family, author of several books, and a wife and mother of three.
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