10 Ways to Prevent Problems in a Blended Family

Most people grew up watching reruns of the hit family show “The Brady Bunch.” But, did you ever wonder whether it was really possible to balance a successful stepfamily? In the show, the mother and her three daughters live happily (and often hilariously) with the stepfather and his three sons. Is that possible in real life? Can a blended family work as successfully in comparison to the traditional nuclear family?

The short answer is yes. The long answer is that it is going to take effort from both stepparents to make their blended family work. If you find yourself getting ready to take the plunge into remarriage, make sure you know the ways you can prevent problems in your new stepfamily.

Are Successful Blended Families Common?

According to statistics, 1300 stepfamilies form each day. This can take the form of a divorced parent remarrying, a single parent living with another adult who takes on the role of a stepparent, or a single/divorced adoptive parent cohabitating with a new partner and their children. Since 50% of U.S. families remarry, the likelihood of a blended family is high.

When we think about a blended family, we picture a single/divorced mother marrying/remarrying a single/divorced father with both people bringing their children into the family. The children can either live with the couple full-time or only for weekend visits, but they are still part of the newly formed family.

The issue, according to statistics, is that the more remarriages that occur, the higher the divorce rate. 67% of second marriages end in divorce, while a whopping 73% of third marriages end in divorce.

Children stuck in this vicious cycle may begin to have problems as they are not sure what family support they have in their corner. It is difficult to ask a child to trust and love a stepparent and new siblings, and then end the marriage a few years later (and quite possibly introduce a new stepparent).

So, what can you do as a parent in this situation? Your new family doesn’t have to have a dreary outlook. There are things you can do to circumvent issues that may come up as you navigate this new role.

10 Ways to Prevent Problems in a Blended Family

There are things you (and your future spouse) can do to help make the transition into a blended family easier.

1. Don’t assume you know everything about marriage and parenting.

Although you may have been married before, creating a blended family is an entirely different type of family dynamic. You can’t assume that you will have the answers to every family problem that arises. However, you can find others in a similar circumstance that are navigating their stepfamily successfully and ask for advice.

2. Prioritize your marriage.

Your marriage needs to come first, so make sure you take time out for the two of you. A blended family will only work if the marriage continues to strengthen. Plus, the love you demonstrate towards each other acts as a future relationship goal for your children.

3. Make sure you and your future spouse are on the same page about parenting.

Discuss how you plan to raise the children, including discipline. Many experts recommend that each parent disciplines their own child, but you need to stay consistent.

If you have already created a plan, the two of you can discipline as a team. You never want to undermine your spouse or confuse the child. Stepchildren can become resentful towards an adult who is not their biological parent when they try to discipline them.

4. Get to know your new stepchildren and work to form emotional bonds.

Not only should you include your stepchildren on special occasions, but also in your daily life. Listen to what they have to say about their life, school, friends, and anything else that is important to them. They need to know that you are a safe person they can turn to when needed.

5. Create weekly routines or new traditions.

Healthy families maintain routines and traditions, and as a new blended family, you can do the same. Weekly dinners after church, Friday family movie nights, or Tuesday board game nights all count towards fun routines. Holidays may be a little trickier if you and an ex-spouse take turns covering the special occasion, but you can still create new traditions. Think along the lines of silly pajamas and pictures at Christmas or Easter egg hunts for everyone.

6. Allow individuality, but don’t label your children and stepchildren.

Just as your children are unique, so are your stepchildren. Avoid referring to them with labels. For example, if your stepson has ADHD or another condition, there is no reason for you to point that out and make him feel bad or somehow “less than” his new siblings. The same thing goes for gifted students. Praise their achievement, but never use it to create sibling rivalry. That is probably not your goal, but children may see it differently.

7. When it comes to the former spouses, try to form partnerships.

The marriage or relationship ended, but you still must work together in a partnership for the children and their best interests. One of the biggest issues in a blended family is the trouble with the ex-spouses. You certainly don’t have to be best friends with your ex and his new wife, but you do need to come to an agreement on how both sets of parents plan to parent the same children.

8. Be open about communication.

Let your children and stepchildren know that if they are having problems in the new family dynamic to tell you. Always be open to communication and suggest ways to problem solve. By listening to their concerns, you will show that you do  want a relationship with them. By the same token, if you are having trouble assimilating to the new family, be upfront with your spouse. Explain to them why you feel the way you do.

The answer may simply be a talk with one of the children, or your spouse assuming a responsibility like carpooling so you don’t feel so overwhelmed. Remember that your family cannot read your mind. Speak up and let the children do the same.

9. Consider Christian family counseling.

A faith-based counselor can help your family transition into a blended family a little more smoothly. The therapist can teach the children how to empathize with one another and resolve differences. Together as a family, you can alleviate any fears the children have about the new family dissolving at some point by showing them that you and your spouse rely on God.

10. Give yourself grace.

No one is perfect. You are going to mess up at times. Your daughter might say something mean to your stepdaughter. Your stepson might yell at you after he loses a basketball game. You might lose your mind on the whole family one night because no one is listening to you. Give yourself some grace. It’s going to happen. If your family knows that you are there for them and you love them, it will work out for your good.

If you are already in a blended family situation and it is not going the way you’d envisioned, it’s not too late. Christian family counseling can open lines of communication between you, your spouse, your children, and your stepchildren. It can help resolve differences and teach the children conflict resolution.

Maintaining a blended family is not for the faint of heart, but God placed you here with this family for a reason. You have a chance to make a lasting impact and leave a legacy for your new family that will one day include a generation of grandchildren. Be the role model for this future generation and show them that love and family are more than blood.

Whether your blended family is large or small, it is your family. God has blessed you with people to share your life and a new beginning. Embrace this new challenge.

Photos:
“Family at the Beach”, Courtesy of Patricia Prudente, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Kids by the Water”, Courtesy of John Schnobrich, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Family at Sunset”, Courtesy of Jude Beck, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Family”, Courtesy of Rajesh Rajput, Unsplash.com, CC0 License

Gentle Parenting: Discipline Strategies for Parents

10 Therapeutic Activities for Children During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Self-Injurious Behavior: What It Is and How to Help

If you have never participated in a form of self-injurious behavior, it can be confusing when you hear about someone cutting themselves. You might ask, “Why would someone have the desire to intentionally hurt themselves?” What you may not be aware of is that for some, self-harm can genuinely feel pleasurable.

As an example, young children hit their heads on walls when angry or overwhelmed. You may have witnessed this yourself with your own kids or a friend’s children. The initial pain sends a wave of “feel good” chemicals through the body. The child alleviates the pain through hitting their head on a surface. This behavior can be scary, but it’s typical in children up to four years old.

Teenagers might scratch themselves to escape their feelings of anger or frustration. This action is then tied to those “feel good” emotions and is also a way to punish themselves. It’s important to watch for signs of self-mutilation in adolescents and provide solutions to help them cope with the thoughts or emotions they are battling. There could be a variety of reasons why someone might resort to self-injurious behavior.

A Story about Self-Harm

As a young child, Maria would slam her head against the table or wall when frustrated. Maria’s mother’s first child never did this, so she was confused as to what caused Maria to lash out. She researched the reasons and decided to wait it out.

As Maria became a preteen, she continued to bang her head on the wall in her moments of rage. Over time, Maria learned to turn to karate as a way to release those unwelcome emotions. Maria’s mother was excited to see her daughter’s progress and that she had stopped banging her head on the wall.

One day, Maria’s mom entered Maria’s room to look for dirty laundry. Months had passed since she last entered Maria’s room. Maria’s mother was horrified to see Maria has stabbed her headboard repeatedly with a knife.

Instead of exploding, Maria’s mother ignored the issue and continued to keep an eye on Maria. In time, she quit her destructive patterns and became a thriving, productive woman in the world. Although she has times of frustration, she no longer escapes her feelings by destroying something.

How to React to Self-Harm Issues

If your child is banging their head or scratching, overreacting isn’t always the wisest way to solve the problem.

  • A kid may increase their head banging if they sense it’s the only way to get noticed.
  • Overreacting might terrify the child and cause more issues.
    Respond in a relaxed, casual tone that can help put your child at ease
  • Encourage the child to discuss their emotions and thoughts
  • Remind them you are always available to approach instead of resorting to self-infliction.
  • Research some options for enhancing self-confidence.
  • Come up with a plan on how to cope, along with practicing communication skills.

Your child may prefer to talk about their actions more than the reason why they are upset. Your child may not even understand what’s causing their anxiety. In cases like these, therapy is an excellent option. A therapist is professionally trained to uncover the root issues.

When a person performs an act of self-injury, immediate relief of pressure from “bad feelings” occurs. Naturally, these feelings are fleeting and are normally replaced by feelings or thoughts of condemnation. This is the vicious cycle of self-injurious behavior.

Children are increasingly exposed to self-injury more than years ago. As a result, self-infliction has become common in children as young as 11.

Once self-harm starts, it can be difficult to quit as the momentary “high” becomes addicting. That’s why it can take awareness, accountability, and support from a counselor to break the cycle of self-injury. Ultimately, the person has to want to stop causing harm to themselves.

An Example of Self-Injurious Behavior

Jacob had a habit of biting his cheek when he felt the urge to get upset and raise his voice. It would help calm him down and keep him composed. However, by the age of 13, the number of situations that set him off had escalated. Anytime he faced his rude brothers, angry father or school bullies he would bite down on his cheek. This caused him both pain and relief. The pain reminded him he was real.

Jacob was experiencing depression, but it was difficult for him to define it as depression since this was the norm for his life.

As situations and stress became more severe, Jacob began scratching himself until his skin was red and raw. Jacob would replay hurtful experiences in his mind and his scratching became more intense. He wished his family would care about him and express concern.

At school, he excelled in his studies and teachers were shocked to learn about his problem with coping. In his health class, self-harm was discussed. He couldn’t help but imagine what it must be like. As he poked his skin with a pin, it didn’t cause much pain. He became enthralled with watching the blood well up. Seeing the blood drip from his skin released the anger inside. He began to cut with blades to cope with his pain.

Jacob went to college where he had more freedom and responsibility. His need to see perfect grades created severe anxiety. Cutting was his only answer to the looming anxiety he felt.

Jacob met a girl on campus, fell in love and his depression seemed to fade, momentarily.

Unfortunately, positive thinking or love can’t remove depression completely. Jacob learned cutting himself did not help him relate emotionally and socially with his girlfriend. She broke up with him and he fell back into old patterns.

Overcome by shame, Jacob recognized his life had become unmanageable and he needed help. Although he had been to therapy before at his parents’ request, this time he walked through the doors on his own. He wanted to become well and learn why he couldn’t stop his destructive behavior.

Jacob allows himself to express emotions today and to dig deep into what is bothering him. He still occasionally bites his cheek, but he has eliminated cutting from his coping mechanisms. He knows how to vocalize when life becomes overwhelming for him. Jacob has learned what people and situations to try to avoid, so he isn’t triggered unnecessarily. Counseling has provided him with a safe place to share his feelings about his life experiences.

Forms of Self-Harm

Self-harm is normally done in private and in a controlled, planned manner.

Examples of self-injurious behavior include:

  • Cutting the skin
  • Scratching
  • Burning (with matches, cigarettes or even ice)
  • Carving words or designs on the skin
  • Hitting or punching
  • Piercing the skin
  • Pulling out hair
  • Persistently picking at a wound as it heals

The most common forms of self-harm are cutting which makes up 70% to 90% of all cases. Hitting oneself or banging the head happens in 21% to 44% of self-harm cases.

Reasons for self-injurious behavior:

  • Boredom
  • Feelings of euphoria
  • To calm down
  • Numbing of emotions
  • Addictive
  • A feeling of empowerment or control
  • To fit in with peers
  • To inflict punishment
  • To communicate in a nonverbal form
  • Fill an empty void
  • Lonely or misunderstood
  • Low self-esteem or depression
  • Inability to regulate emotions
  • Feel panic or frustration
  • A reminder of being alive

Many teenagers use social media to glorify cutting. Young, impressionable people can be drawn to these websites and social profiles. Cutting is portrayed as cool and encouraged. They share stories and display their scars from cutting. Glorifying self-harm is an indicator of a person’s state of mind. It’s important for parents to know what their kids are consuming online and who they are hanging around.

How Common is Self-Harm?

Self-harm is rare, despite how often certain communities and television shows are glorifying it. It is higher among teenagers, but most grow out of the self-harm habit. Still for the 17% to 35% who do practice self-harm getting professional help is an incredibly beneficial way to learn how to handle life’s challenges.

Self-Harm Risk Factors

Age

Teenagers are more likely to engage in self-harm. Parents need to be aware and active in their child’s life to notice if she is inflicting intentional wounds on herself.

Having Friends Who Self-Harm

Once I heard a story of a child who cut herself because her friend did and she didn’t want her to do it alone. The child didn’t even know the implications of cutting. Children are easily swayed and if cutting is acceptable in their circle of friends it could become normal for the child. Children don’t want to be left out or feel like an outsider.

Life Issues

If a person is isolated or ostracized, he might consider self-harm as a coping mechanism. A person’s mental state can be dramatically influenced by the toxic or unhealthy environment.

Mental Health Issues

A person battling depression, or another mental health issue like bipolar disorder, has a higher probability of turning to self-harm practices.

How to Diagnose Self-Injurious Behavior

Because self-harm is often hidden, it isn’t obvious until revealed. Now, the level of severity is something a doctor or therapist would need to determine. If someone has many tattoos or body piercing that doesn’t necessarily signify self-harm, but it can be a part of the behavior expressed by a cutter.

Substance Abuse

Alcohol and drugs alter the brain and significantly increase the risk of those prone to self-harm.

Self-Harm and Suicide

Self-harm is normally done in private and the scars are hidden under long sleeves. It doesn’t automatically mean someone is suicidal. However, if the person is depressed or battling other overwhelming emotions, it could be a way to gain confidence to commit suicide. Sometimes the person cuts too deep and accidentally commits suicide or ends up in the hospital.

If you, or someone you know, is contemplating ending their life please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Someone is waiting to speak with you 24/7.

Self-Harm Complications

Even after someone quits inflicting wounds on themselves, the scars are usually still evident. This can be a source of shame for the person. Also, infections can occur as a result of creating open wounds using random objects. Accidental death can happen if the person uses extremely sharp objects. It’s important to lovingly talk to your friend about self-harm if you notice any signs. Let them know that they are seen and heard.

If you are recovering from self-injurious behavior or need someone to talk to, please reach out to a counselor you can trust to help you navigate your experiences.

Photos:
“Boy Fashion Model”, Courtesy of Pexels, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Harmony Rocks”, Courteys of Devanath, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Desperate” Courtesy of Anemone123, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Teen in Cafe”, Courtesy of Nastya_gepp, Pixabay.com, CC0 License

3 Reasons for Teen Eating Disorders

In many societies around the world, there are teens who are obsessed with their appearance. They are constantly searching for newer, more effective products to whiten their teeth, straighten their hair, or give them a flawless complexion.

A big portion of their conversations with one another revolves around looking good or catching the eye of someone they like, causing them to compare themselves against each other or even against those seen on the big and small screens.

Because of these, it is no small wonder why teen eating disorders are more prevalent now than ever before. In homes and schools, teenagers are either starving themselves or binge-eating and then throwing it all up. Such disorders, however, are very dangerous to the health which is why it is such a worrisome problem to parents and guardians.

Three Reasons for Teen Eating Disorders

Though there are may be many reasons why adolescents deal with teen eating disorders today, the following are most probably the top three:

1. There is too much societal focus on personal appearance

Shallow as it may seem to some, many teenagers develop eating disorders because they want to fit in with society’s standards of beauty, believing that anything less makes them substandard. Media now really bombards people with images of fitness, claiming such bodies to be the benchmark for healthy living.

This is then reinforced by people around – in social media posts, discussions amongst friends, and even preferences by people (such as their crushes!) around them, further cementing these wrong notions of “beauty” in the minds of the young.

Initially, it may begin with internal questions like “Why don’t I look like the other girls?” or “Am I buff enough to attract the girl I like?” But later on, this internal talk becomes even more negative in nature until they finally decide to do something about their weight.

2. Someone said they were not beautiful 

Words are very powerful. As stated in Proverbs 12:18, “The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”

For some teenagers, it was not necessarily media that brought their eating disorder about, but the careless words of someone around them – be they a close family member or friend, or a complete stranger. Teens are still developing their self-identity which often makes them very fragile inside. As they are still not fully aware of who they truly are, spoken words can help build them up or shatter their idea of themselves.

Sadly, not all words may have been spoken because of spite or harsh criticism. It could have been stated matter-of-fact, such as “I think you are too big for that dress now” or “I think you look rounder than usual.” Though no harm was meant, the teen may have wrongly internalized the observation, further breaking down their confidence.

3. There is a lack of positive reinforcement in their life

The teenage years are a topsy-turvy time. At this time, bodily changes, the craving for acceptance from peers, and the new responsibilities and pressures from parents and school can really cause a teen to crumble inside. This is why positive reinforcement is necessary, most especially from parents and those closest to them.

Unfortunately, with the busy lives that many parents have today, such reinforcement is lacking. Many teens grow up believing that they are not loved or they are not “good enough.” This causes some to try and control a portion of their life – their eating habits – to become what the world expects them to be.

How to Help Others Overcome Teen Eating Disorders

An eating disorder is a serious condition indeed; thankfully, there are three things that can be done to help them.

1. Love them

Eating disorders develop because the teen no longer loves themself; thus, love is what they need, particularly from those closest to them. This, however, will require much sensitivity and patience from the loved one as the teen will undergo many trials, big and small, during this trying time. But it is imperative that there is someone there to contradict the teen’s critical inner voice and show them that they are truly loved.

2. Educate them

Sometimes even if a teen feels loved, they may still be obsessed with becoming slim. In this case, it is important to educate them on how to lose weight in a safe way. Teach them about the correct eating habits, the need for rest, and commitment to regular exercise so that they can achieve their desired look without resorting to throwing up their food or starving themselves. When done successfully, it may become a permanent part of their lifestyle, helping them even when they are much older.

Educating them also includes redefining what “healthy” looks like and teaching them what “beautiful” really is. They must be informed that a skeletal physique is not healthy, which is why they should NOT strive to be what the supermodel TV shows portray. But more importantly, they need to know about true beauty – that if they are beautiful inside, then they are truly beautiful despite the many curves or lack of them.

3. Be careful with your language

For parents and guardians, careful guidance continues well beyond the elementary years. Sometimes, though, people forget, uttering the wrong words like “big boned,” “chubby,” or “fat” that cause a teen to lose confidence.

It may seem like an additional burden to always watch what one says around a teen; but if the bigger picture is taken into account, then the sacrifice will be well worth it.

Seek Help through Christian Counseling

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. 1 Peter 3:3-4

In some situations, a teen’s eating disorder may be too much for parents or guardians to handle, despite attempts to change the teen’s mindset about how they look. When this occurs, professional help should be sought out before other complications (e.g. failing health, depression, substance abuse) set in. Sometimes teens choose to listen to a neutral party’s advice rather than the same sound advice from parents, which is why therapy is often quite useful for teens.

In Christian counseling, the latest counseling methods will be used to help the teen overcome their weight obsession issues. They will also be taught and encouraged to opt for the healthier methods of staying healthy.

But more importantly, the Christian counselor will help connect the teen to our Lord Jesus Christ, through prayer and meditation on His Word, so that they can view their life circumstance through His eyes. When the teen is able to see how much they are loved by God and how beautiful they are in God’s perspective, then it becomes easier to break the eating disorder’s hold on them.

God wants everyone to know that they are beautiful and loved by Him. If your teenager is dealing with an eating disorder, seek help soon so that they may know about His perfect love.

Photos:
“Makeover”, Courtesy of Andrei Lazarev, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Reflection,” courtesy of Ali Marel, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Contemplation”, Courtesy of Strecosa, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Altered Conscious”, Courtesy of Alex Perez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License