The divorce rate continues to hover around 50 percent.
A majority of children will live in stepfamilies at some time in their lives.
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The number one cause of the breakup of second or third marriages is problems with children.
With that upbeat introduction, let me suggest some guidelines for becoming a stepparent that may not only help you get along with your stepchildren, but maybe save your marriage as well.
1. Never try to be Mom or Dad to someone else's kids. It can't work. Ever. You can be (and need to be) consistent, supportive and caring adults in their lives.
2. Don't expect to love, or be loved, by your stepchildren. Such love may arise over time; it may not. Concentrate on liking your stepchildren and try to be an adult whom they can like in return.
3. Have frequent and concrete discussions with your spouse about your role in his or her children's lives. In fact, start this long before you get married. Be clear about what you can, and should, do and not do.
4. Be sensitive to the children's ages. You might, for example, have more of a role in discipline with a 5-year-old than a 15-year-old (or you might not get involved in discipline at all). Each child's developmental stage has its own unique needs and potentials.
5. Be sensitive to the children's personalities and experiences. No two children are alike. If you have four different children in your new family, you need four different plans for being a stepparent.
6. Explain to the children your limits. Be clear that you have no intention of being a parent, but that you do care about them and would like to try to be a friend.
7. Respect the children's biological parent (even if you don't). Never be critical of your stepchildren's real mother or father in front of the children. As much as possible encourage your spouse's children to have a positive relationship with their biological parent.
8. Expect problems. Hey, raising your own kids is no picnic. Helping to raise stepchildren is bound to be harder at times.
9. Give it time, lots of time. Perhaps a lifetime. Remember, as rough as it has been for you, it has been a lot rougher for the kids.
10. Get help if you need it. Many family therapists now specialize in blended family issues. So don't try to go it alone if things get out of hand.