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Blended Families With Children

Elliston Lutz

Chaos reigns in a post-divorce household, from sharing the holidays (Thanksgiving for you, Christmas for me) to switching homes midweek (lunch box, sneakers, special blankie—check). So in the midst of these issues, is a silver lining even possible? Logan Fisher found one in Jackie, her sons' stepmom. “At first, I was resentful that she got to be with my boys [Aiden and Gannan, then five and two],” says the Queensbury, NY, mom. “But everything changed one day for Gannan, who was then nine, while he was at his dad's house. He was weeping on the phone with me, begging to come home, but it was my ex's turn to have the kids.” Later on, Gannan called back completely happy—Jackie had taken him for a ride to a nearby lake, the special place she goes to feel better when she's blue. And it worked! “I realized right then how lucky my sons were to have her,” she adds. The latest findings back up Fisher's sentiment: The majority of families with step-relatives in the United States say they're pretty happy with the arrangement, according to a new report from the Pew Research Center.

With about 25 percent of American families now fitting this formula, “stepfamilies in 2011 are ‘out’—and they're asking for more help than they did ten years ago,” says Patricia Papernow, Ed.D., a clinical instructor of psychology at Harvard Medical School. “Most important, today's divorced co-parents understand better how critical it is for kids to be protected from post-divorce conflict.” But that's not the only rule of stepparenting. Here are the other stepfamily commandments, straight from the front lines:

It's a second chance at success

It wasn't long ago that unhappy couples felt obliged to stay together: Divorce was a taboo that brought with it a social stigma. Today, it appears that stepfamilies can offer new nourishing relationships after the initial adjustment period. More than 60 percent of married adults with step-relatives say their marriage is closer than their parents' marriage, according to the Pew Research study, but only 45 percent of married adults without them say the same thing.

Be sure he's worthy of an introduction

Thanks to online dating and social media, your single life can move at the speed of WiFi. (You can now download an application on Facebook that alerts you when friends change their status to “single.” 'Nuff said.) While there may be no shortage of suitors, be careful whenever you introduce a “special friend” to your children. “Tyler, my eleven-year-old, gets attached to people pretty quickly, so it's hard on him when they suddenly aren't around anymore,” explains Melinda Weeks of Mount Olive, NC, who's also the mom of Tyler's half brothers, ages 1 and 4. “Make sure the one you bring home is really important to you.” (For more on this topic, check out “The Single Parent Handbook.”)