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Ron L. Deal

This is a deleted section from the first trade paper edition of The Smart Stepfamily by Ron L. Deal (Bethany House Publishers, 2006). Used with permission. All rights reserved.

Get the Revised & Expanded edition (Bethany House Pub., 2014) of The Smart Stepfamily: Seven Steps to a Healthy Family by Ron L. Deal today

I have learned a great deal from the stepfamilies that participate in my seminars. One group activity in particular is especially helpful in clarifying for adults what children need as they travel back and forth between homes. Without revealing any secrets as to how the activity is structured (you might want to come to a conference someday), let me share the most helpful realizations parents have made through the years.

  1. When children return from the other home, share what has been going on since they left. Upon return, it’s very common for parents to ask what the child has done over the weekend or summer (not trying to make the child a spy, but simply taking interest in the child’s life). However, rarely do parents take the time to tell their children what has been happening in their home while the child was away. This helps children to know the mood of the home and invites them to find their place in the flow. Remember that belonging can be an issue. Help children find their place.
  2. Send lists of items to be returned. Children often forget items, such as their math book, and co-parents may assume it is being returned. Send a checklist of items that need to be returned so the child can be responsible (if old enough), or the co-parent can make sure it is returned.
  3. Give children a little “grace space” as they adjust to your house and rules. Children can adjust to different rules in different homes. However, they may need gentle reminders of the rules in your home after spending time in the other. A simple reminder like, “I know you can stay up till nine at your mom’s house, but the rule in our house is eight-thirty. Off you go.” Don’t argue with the other house’s rule or take issue with the rule-makers. Just manage your home and give the kids a break while they reorient themselves.
  4. “Choosing sides stinks!” Try not to force loyalties as children move between homes. The transition from one house to the other is a natural time of comparison for kids. Don’t ask them to make choices, and answer their questions regarding the other home with neutral, supportive statements. If you can’t be supportive, don’t expect your child to adopt your opinion and don’t denigrate the other home.
  5. “Who needs me the most?” When examining their fit in both homes, children will sometimes choose to invest themselves in the home where they are most needed. Parents need to be understanding about this. Try not to take personally the fact that a child is drawn to the other home; ask questions and listen to what pressures he faces. It may be that he can’t fix the situation and needs to be relieved of the responsibility to do so. But it also may be that there is a legitimate reason for him to spend more time in the other home (e.g., a parent’s illness that requires extra support from him).