It’s peak wedding season between now and October, according to the Department of Vital Statistics, and many of these weddings will be between people who are making their second or third trip down the aisle.

With the Stepfamily Association of America estimating that one out of three Americans is now a stepparent, stepchild, stepsibling or some other member of a stepfamily, it would probably be wise for these betrothed couples to spend as much time preparing to merge families as they spend planning the wedding — especially where children are concerned.

Certain situations tend to be especially problematic, but they can be overcome with the right care and attention. Some of the most common pitfalls occur when:

The couple has dissimilar values, beliefs and attitudes about raising children — It is critical to have fundamental philosophical agreement about life and parenting because that will lead to a strong, happy marital relationship. Such a relationship creates a loving, nurturing environment for children while also modeling healthy relationships.
Either partner has experienced a highly conflicted divorce with ongoing hostilities — In cases where children have been in the middle of a lot of conflict between their parents, they are understandably apprehensive about stepping into another family situation. The best thing for parents to do in this circumstance is reduce the stress as much as possible, especially by showing respect for the child’s other parent and not expecting the child to divide loyalties.
Stepparents assume responsibility for disciplining children — Disciplining a child is a delicate process, so it’s important for both partners to discuss the subject privately and agree on parenting strategies. Having said that, discipline is best handled by the birth parent. Children resent stepparents being enforcers. Instead, stepparents can become good listeners and work to become someone with whom the child can talk and express himself. With this approach, many children have come to value their stepparents as people who made a critical difference in their lives.
When done well, blending families can be a rich experience for children. It gives them additional parents and grandparents, brothers and sisters, and helps them see there are more people who love and accept them. It gives them a larger world and a village of support.

As published in the August 24, 2003 Edition of the La Crosse Tribune.