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Parenting strengthening your blended family

Blended families are becoming more and more common. Unfortunately, members of these altered families, which have been created by divorce, death or remarriage, often struggle with numerous stresses, individually and as a whole.

Instant family unity is not a reality for blended families any more than it is for any other family. It is not worse than, better than or a substitute for other family types; it is simply different.

Understanding and accepting these differences provides a strong foundation for success and allows family members to build on their family's special qualities.

Blended families are usually formed because of a loss, and nobody in the family experiences the loss more than children. Kids have lost control, contact and continuity in their life. They have had no choice in the parent's decisions, yet their lives have been changed forever.

Most likely, children have lost daily contact with one parent. They may also have moved, changed schools or teachers, neighborhood friends and their home - everything that was familiar and safe.

Remarriage of one or both parents may threaten family closeness and personal attention that have developed in the single-parent family.

Sharing a parent with another adult may create additional feelings of loss for children. Parents should try to think of these many changes from the children's point of view.

Children in blended families may feel like they are forever in transition as they move between the homes of their biological parents. Children may have to cope with friends and possessions in two places and two sets of routines and rules. Regardless of the amount of time spent in each parent's home, children need to feel they belong and are a part of the families of both parents.

If you only remember one piece of advice on blending families, remember the importance of communication. As groups blend into one new family, communication is vital. Each person comes to the family with different backgrounds, expectations and needs.

If a family does not discuss what and why things are done it is difficult to come to a compromise and for people to know what is acceptable and what is not. You may want to consider beginning family meetings to make time for communication to occur.

Also keep in mind the importance of flexibility. There are different ways to solve any problem. Keep trying until you find what works best for you family.

The more united and supportive parents can be of one another the easier it will be to deal with family decisions. If children realize they will get the same answer from either parent, they will have more difficulty playing one against the other.

Being a cohesive and satisfying blended family is a process that may take years. Patience is important as parents guide children as they juggle individual relationships and family needs at the same time.

Kathleen Olson has spent her career focusing on parenting issues and believes that most issues we face in life go back to parenting. She is an Extension Educator in Family Relations for the University of Minnesota.