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The "Brady Bunch" It's Not!

Tips to Organizing Step Families

Organizing one family is hard enough. Trying to organize two seems nearly impossible. A stepfamily can either be an exercise in frustration or an example of compromise. It isn't easy. There is no question about it.

Undoubtedly there will be left-over hurt feelings and a sense of unfamiliarity that will come into the mix, making everything else a bit more challenging. Children can become particularly sensitive during situations such as this, and parents themselves may feel a constant pressure to make everything perfect.

Putting an organization system into place will make all the difference. It will ease unnecessary tensions and provide a backbone in times of stress. Before doing anything, it is important to open the channels of communication between all members of the family. This should be done during an informal family meeting. No one should feel as though their opinion doesn't matter. Children need to feel a sense of ownership towards the new family being created. If something isn't working, it's everyone's business and everyone's problem. A family unit functions as one, and although that idea may have been lost during divorce, it needs to be re-instilled. Be open with your goals and dreams for the family. It will be easier for everyone to work towards something they themselves can envision.

If you are just moving the two families into one household, you will undoubtedly have a lot of items. Sort the items by putting 'like' with 'like'. You will find that you have two or three of most items. For example, you may have two vacuum cleaners or two irons. Pick the better quality item of the two to keep and arrange a garage sale for the rest. It is very important that there are no items deemed for use by one family or the other. If there is, this will lead to an overall breakdown in your newfound unity. An exception to this rule is regarding children's toys. Children need their own toys and need to realize that although sharing is important, some things are only theirs. Remember never to dispose of a child's toy without his or her permission.

Once your home is organized, it's time to organize your time as a family. Children will adjust best if a regular routine is established and they know what to expect.

Arrange for each child to have 'focus', 'buffer' and 'free' time each day. Focus time is for homework and other important tasks that need concentration. Buffer time is the time in between to get things such as brushing teeth and bathing done. Free time is the most fun for anyone, and it is your child's choice as to how he or she would like to spend this time. Also, each child needs time with both parents. Arrange for children to have a 'date' night alone with both parents each week. This allows for needed bonding time and gives the new parent a chance to truly get to know his or her new children.

Another important thing to begin, is a family night tradition. Take turns letting members of the family create interesting evenings together. When it comes to discipline, firm rules need to be established. Because different families parent with different strategies, it is important that everyone is clear on the new rules. Parents should sit down with each other and discuss how they are going to discipline the children and this should not vary between children. Once that is done, the children need to be made clear of the rules and expectations within the new household. It is helpful to write and distribute a list of all expectations and put one up in a central location.

Chores can easily become a source of frustration in any family, so a chore list needs to be established. Create a bulletin board of responsibilities and color code it. Each child has a different color. Put it in a place where it can be easily seen, such as on the fridge. This reduces any confusion a child may feel in regards to what is expected of him or her. Of course, these chores need to be divided according to age and maturity.

On a side-note, it is important that you do not refer to your children as 'step' children. This implies that they are not truly a part of your family and can lead to feelings of inferiority. When talking to others, allow the children to hear you call them your children and not your step-children. This will bolster family unity and bring them immediately closer to you, even if they do not realize it at the time. However, if children feel the need to refer to you as their step-father or step-mother, do not take offense. They are simply reinforcing the idea that their other parent cannot be replaced. Allow them this expression and never push to replace their other parent.

Although melding two families together isn't something parents ever expect to have to do, it can be accomplished. It won't be easy from the get-go, but as you build momentum, you will find your family growing stronger and stronger. There will be times when it seems impossible, but you will find that the original routines and expectations set forth will help carry you to higher ground. Don't expect perfection, for even families that never face divorce are not without fault. After all, a true family accepts one another - faults and all.

Mira is a Professional Organizer of Home, Office and Life, and the president of Paper Tiger Consultants. Call 807-7760 for more information.

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