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Just Add Kids, Then Blend Well

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Despite what they say in the movies, stepmothers are not stepmonsters. Blended families really can live happily ever after ... and these families are living proof!

Will Smith and Family

This week, Essence featured their top ten favorite families, along with family therapist Tonya Ladipo's tips for making blended families work:

Be Yourself!

Do not try to be someone other than who you are. Initially you should not try to "parent" your new step-children. You are not their parent and they will resent you for assuming the role of their father/mother. Instead, the biological parent should continue to set limits with their children. As a step-parent you can backup your partner by enforcing these boundaries. There may be qualities of a friendship but both the children and step-parent must remember that they have an adult-child relationship, not an equal friendship.

Do Your Homework

Find out what activities they like, places they like to go and do that with them. Your partner's children will be strangers to you until you develop a relationship with them. Don't pretend that you know them when you don't. Be yourself and be genuine. Children can tell when they are disliked and unwanted. Find ways to connect with them and spend time getting to know them.

Create Everyone's Own Space

If the children from a previous relationship are only with the new family on the weekends then extra effort needs to be made so that they will feel included. It is hard to feel wanted when you are sleeping on the couch. Create a space specifically for them, and if they aren't able to have their own bedroom then possibly [set aside] their own bed and dresser that is only used by them.

Keep the Lines of Communication Open

Blended families have their challenges, as do all families. Honesty and openness makes this easier for everyone. Encourage children to discuss the changes in their family. Children still need time alone with their biological parent and should be able to share their feelings about their step-parent. Step-parents also need a place to speak honestly about their feelings. They need friends and confidantes who are separate from the situation and can support them.

Spread the Love

It is important that all members of the family know that they are loved, wanted, and part of the family. Children from previous relationships often feel unwanted and replaceable by the new children. Showing a genuine interest in them, making time for them can address some of these feelings.

Tonya Ladipo, LCSW is a licensed therapist and specializes in building strong families in the Black community, including free consultations from her private practice in Philadelphia. For more information, visit

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3 comments so far | Post a comment now
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