Blended Families Face Unique Challenges

1,300 new blended familes form every day in the U.S.

ByKEVIN DOLAK via logo
August 15, 2010, 12:52 PM

Aug. 15, 2010— -- The image of the traditional American family -- the nuclear family of the Clevers and Huxtables -- was once limited to mom, dad, and children living happily together under roof. Today the notion of a typical family has gradually expanded to included blended families of stepparents and stepchildren, like the Bradys and the Kardashians.

With over 30 million children living with a stepparent, blended families are one of the fastest growing segments of families in the United States, but unlike the nicely packaged problems seen on Television, these families struggle with issues that are anything but easy.

"A lot of what you see on TV that represents step families or blended families is not very realistic," said parenting expert Ann Pleshette Murphy. "Whenever you have a blended anything - especially if there are other children involved, if there are step siblings involved - everyone's routines and everybody's way of relating is going to change things up."

Major issues that newly blended families face include integrating discipline styles and coping with strong emotions, while at the same time building new relationships from scratch.

"It's hard to step out of that role - am I a friend or am I a parent? But as an adult, you're the parent, you have to discipline because there are going to be times that they're with you alone," said New York psychologist Dr. Janet Taylor in an interview with "Good Morning America." "Come from a nurturing standpoint, where you teach them responsibility, but do it from a place of love."

According to Taylor, some of the major rules of being a strong parent in a blended family include never assuming anything and understanding the children's point-of-view.

"Obviously there's been a transition [for the child], whether it's the death of a parent or a divorce, so there's bound to be some broken feelings," Taylor said. "You don't want to overcompensate, but come from the point of a nurturing environment. You're still going to have to be a parent and have to set limits."

Taylor also recommends that parents understand the established rules set for children. New parent can come up with at least three new rules to integrate into their lives, but only while keeping the focus on the children and understanding the rules from their perspectives.

"You want to anticipate challenges," Taylor added. "If you have a plan, that's much easier. You want to focus on communication. You want to use discipline in a way that teaches, and is not punitive. Also you really want to come from a place of love and understanding."

She also recommends reaching out to a new spouse's ex by asking him or her out to lunch -- or contacting them via email -- to develop a relationship with the children's best interest in mind. "From a mother's perspective, you want someone around your child that's going to teach them and love them with respect and look out for what's best for them," Taylor said.

The key, according to Taylor, in developing bonds in all families -- blended or otherwise -- is patience, understanding and allowing the time to naturally build a relationship.

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