About 10 percent of children are living in stepfamilies, and the number is growing. Due primarily to the high rate of divorce and remarriage, children often find themselves sharing a household with a new stepparent and his or her children.

After many months or years of single parenthood, mothers and fathers are often relieved to remarry. Most find comfort in the traditional family structure, with two parents under the same roof. In these blended families, mothers and fathers can turn to each other for support and share parenting responsibilities-a welcome relief for someone who has been handling the parenting chores alone.

Although it takes time and honest effort, stepparents and their stepchildren can develop a genuinely positive regard for one another, and the new family can provide an enriching experience for everyone. Along with a new stepparent may come new stepbrothers and stepsisters, and a new extended family. These relationships require some negotiation, but they broaden each child's experience with people and may introduce him or her to new cultural and ethnic influences. Also, there may be some improvement in the new family's financial situation, as remarriage may make two incomes available to support them.

When you and your new partner are ready for a more committed relationship, discuss these plans with your children to prepare them for the changes that are about to take place. If you are planning to get married, your youngsters will want to be part of any celebration. The wedding ceremony itself is generally a positive experience for children, one in which they should be given a special role. The more that children feel a part of the process of becoming a step-family, the better things will go for all concerned.

Next, a new household will be established, and the blended family will learn to live together. This is a period of establishing who you are, what you are willing to share, and what each individual's role in the new household will be. This process takes some time, conscious effort on the part of all family members, especially the parents, and occasionally some outside help. From the child's perspective, the new stepparent is a "guest in the house.'' The stepparent needs to develop his relationship with the child gradually and independently from his relationship with the mother.

The success of stepfamilies depends on a number of factors, but especially the quality of the new marriage. If the new spouses begin having difficulties with their own relationship, that will affect nearly every aspect of family life, including how the children fare.

As the children themselves adapt to the new family arrangement, some will do better than others. Sometimes, the fit between stepchild and stepparent is a good one. However, there are many opportunities for problems to arise. Perhaps the child is jealous of the new man in his mother's life. Or he may resent the intrusion of stepsiblings into his home. Sometimes members of the blended family have minimal tolerance for their differences, creating dissatisfaction and tension that can undermine the family's equilibrium.

Once the transition period is over, people settle into routines much as any other family does. Later, there may be changes and transitions that can force adaptations in family life--for example, if the remarried couple has a new baby of their own, or an older child leaves for college.

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