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How to Make Step-Families Work

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Getting remarried when you have children presents many challenges. Advice on blending stepfamilies and how to treat the children.

The so--called "blended family" is no longer an aberration in American society: It's a norm.

Planning for remarriage

A marriage that brings with it children from a previous marriage presents many challenges. Such families should consider three key issues as they plan for remarriage:

Financial and living arrangements

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Adults should agree on where they will live and how they will share their money. Most often partners embarking on a second marriage report that moving into a new home, rather than one of the partner's prior residences, is advantageous because the new environment becomes "their home." Couples also should decide whether they want to keep their money separate or share it. Couples who have used the "one-pot" method generally reported higher family satisfaction than those who kept their money separate.

Resolving feelings and concerns about the previous marriage

Remarriage may resurrect old, unresolved anger and hurts from the previous marriage, for adults and children. For example, hearing that her parent is getting remarried, a child is forced to give up hope that the custodial parents will reconcile. Or a woman may exacerbate a stormy relationship with her ex-husband, after learning of his plans to remarry, because she feels hurt or angry.

Anticipating parenting changes and decisions

Couples should discuss the role the stepparent will play in raising their new spouse's children, as well as changes in household rules that may have to be made. Even if the couple lived together before marriage, the children are likely to respond to the stepparent differently after remarriage because the stepparent has now assumed an official parental role.

Marriage quality

While newlywed couples without children usually use the first months of marriage to build on their relationship, couples with children are often more consumed with the demands of their kids.

Young children, for example, may feel a sense of abandonment or competition as their parent devotes more time and energy to the new spouse. Adolescents are at a developmental stage where they are more sensitive to expressions of affection and sexuality, and may be disturbed by an active romance in their family.

Couples should make priority time for each other, by either making regular dates or taking trips without the children.