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Rules for blending families during the holidays

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More than fifty percent of all children are raised in single-parent families in the United States. During the holidays this can lead to additional stress because kids are joining their other biological parent to celebrate, and many times this parent has another family. Blending families is never easy, and in fact the leading cause of divorce among second marriages is the children involved.

Blending families doesn't have to be a nightmare; it can be an opportunity to show a child that love extends beyond problems between their mom and dad. Step-parents or loving partners that a child may encounter after a divorce, separation or death of parent, play an integral part in a child's life and can provide insight into the depth of a healthy, loving relationship.

If you are a step-parent or entering a relationship where blending with the kids is important, there are important things to remember, especially during the holiday season. These suggestions may help you help the children you love in establishing a bridge of peace in your home:

1. Whoever has the children should, as much as possible, follow the daily routines the child has from the home they live in most of the time. Kids draw stability from routines, and when their routine is not followed this may lead to increased anxiety and acting out.

2. Never force your stepchild or your partner's child to bond with you. Bonding takes a long time, and it requires time, not money or gifts. You cannot buy a child's love.

3. Never talk badly about your child's biological parent.

4. Don't try to discipline your stepchild; this is the biological parent's job. It is wise to talk to the child's parent in privacy and come up with a plan together while the child is with you that will work for both of you. As a family you should talk directly with your child the next day.

5. When you talk with your stepchild, be sure to listen to them, and encourage open, honest communication. Lecturing never works with biological or stepchildren.

6. Gift giving should be discussed prior to the child joining your family. This is not a time to "win the child over." This is a time to show grace and love, and demonstrate that small things matter most. Trying to outdo the other parent usually backfires and hurts the child.

The holidays are for children, and you can help create special memories that will last forever. If you are a step-parent, your stepchild will love you most if they feel that you understand and accept where they came from. You establish this by listening, and rather than trying to change them, help bridge the gap of emotion they may feel, but be unable to express.

– Mary Jo Rapini

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