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Stepfamilies and second marriages are more common today than ever before. Over 65 percent of Americans are a stepparent, a stepchild, a stepsibling or a step-grandparent.
Experts have been predicting for decades that by 2011, there would be more stepfamilies in America than traditional families, and we are almost there. The latest statistics show 46 percent of weddings taking place in the United States today are the creation of a stepfamily. This means there are more than 2,100 new stepfamilies created every day.
The bad news is less than one-third of these new families will last.
The divorce rate for second marriages, when only one partner has children, is over 65 percent. When both partners have children, the rate rises to 70 percent and the divorce rate for third marriages is 73 percent.
Basically the odds are against stepfamilies — and since almost half of us are stepfamilies — the odds are against families in general.
These are disturbing statistics, but they are even more disturbing because most of these couples are unaware of the difficulty of the challenge. Many think they will automatically be more successful the second time around because of what they learned from the failure of their previous marriages. Unfortunately, this doesn’t appear to be true.
Most people make the same mistakes again and again. Diane Sollee, a family therapist and director of the Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education says, "It seems that people would be older and wiser, or learn from the mistakes of a failed first marriage. … But that's like saying if you lose a football game, you'll win the next one. You might, but only if you learn some new plays before you go back on the field."
Experts agree the one way to beat the odds is to get educated about step-parenting and blending families. Studies have shown that pre-marital education of some kind can reduce the divorce rate by up to 30 percent. Couples, who seek out professional help and education about re-marriage, are more satisfied with their relationships and stay together longer.
Unfortunately most couples don't seek help. Studies have shown less than 25 percent seek relationship or educational help before marriage and less than 50 percent even read a book about re-marriage or step-parenting.
This is unfortunate because there are many resources out there for help. The No. 1 thing couples need to know before creating a stepfamily is how to set realistic expectations.
Here are some important realities in regards to stepfamilies:
- A stepfamily is very different from a traditional family. You cannot use what worked the first time around and expect it to work here. Jeannette Lofas, founder of The Stepfamily Foundation, says, “It’s like playing a game of chess with the rules of checkers! It just won’t work. The stepfamily is a different entity, with a different structure, and you’ll be much better off if you accept it for what it is.
Your second marriage will be much more complicated than your first, especially when children are involved. Not only will you have the traditional challenges of getting along as a couple, but you add children who have been through a traumatic divorce and ex-spouses who inevitably bring issues to the mix. You will need to learn a new set of rules and adjust to a different way of doing things.
- As a stepparent, you will never be the same as a natural parent. You must respect the natural parent’s role and adjust to a new kind of role yourself, one that you haven’t experienced before.
This may be rocky at times. It is normal for children to go through at least a phase of rejecting a new stepparent in their life. This is normal even if you have had a good relationship with a child during the dating process, some form of rejection may still show up. If you see this coming, you will be better prepared to ride your way through it.
- It takes time to blend families and get into a new family groove that works. This process will take longer than you think — possibly years.
This process cannot be rushed. Everyone involved needs time to process their pain, guilt and confusion around this divorce and re-marriage. Couples will often rush children and even pressure them to love their new stepparent right away. This kind of pressure will hinder the process even more. Give each child the time and space to accept their new stepparent and adjust to the new arrangement on their own time. If you let them set the pace, they will have a more positive experience.
Despite the challenges, couples who are committed to work at this together can create successful and thriving stepfamilies. You can learn how to deal with conflicts, work through individual issues and address common problems before they arise. There are numerous resources out there to help you.
Kimberly Sayer-Giles, her husband Patrick and their seven children are a blended family and understand the challenges firsthand. She is the founder and president of LDS Life Coaching and www.claritypointcoaching.com.
Watch for future articles from Coach Kim Giles dealing with specific tips and techniques for stepfamilies.