How Parents (and Stepparents) Can Help Their Children Adjust to Change

As a young child, your son or daughter counts on you to help him or her make sense of major changes in his or her life. When marital problems can be resolved only through divorce, or when a child is expected to accept a new family configuration through blending, you must take the time to help him or her understand and adjust.

The guiding principle here is to slow down. You may be lonely, or feel you are ready to start a new relationship, but is your child ready for that? Talk to your child or children about what is happening. Answer their questions. If you notice a peculiar behavior, get

professional help. Research shows that following a divorce, children get less attention from their mothers than before the divorce, but more from their fathers. This change is neither good nor bad, but it is a change that children must adjust to. Help them with it.

One mistake you cannot afford to make is to deprive your child of the other parent. Even if you remarry, even if your ex-spouse is a derelict, children need access to that parent. They will always be attached to their parents in profound and inexplicable ways. No stepparent can take the place of Daddy or Mommy.

Stepparents need to understand this and not get their feelings hurt. As a stepmother or stepfather you can become the child’s friend. You can be one of the role models your stepchild may imitate. Your stepchild may even prefer your company to that of her Dad or Mom, but in her heart her first parents come first. After all, it is through her first parents, all those years ago, that she had her first experience with discovering herself. That was a memorable period even if only in terms of feelings. Psychologists call this process bonding, and it is something that cannot be learned later in life.

It is important to honor this bond even if the child seldom has a chance to see the noncustodial parent. Being willing to talk about the absent parent, sharing photographs of happier times, and helping the child to learn the story of his or her earlier life keep the continuity of life going for the child. Your children need to know that they have a whole life that is unique to them, that has helped to shape them, that may be slightly different from yours. And they need to know that all they have been through is helping them to grow stronger and more beautiful each day—even extreme hardship. They are not bad because bad things have happened to them; and you can prove this by being willing to experience life with them.

For more information, visit Blended Families.

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