Seventy-five percent of women and 85 percent of men remarry after divorce. Half of these are remarried within three years, making step-families a common occurrence in the United States.

These blended families, though they come with their own special challenges, can provide a supportive and loving environment in which children and adults learn to work together and appreciate differences.

If you are preparing to transition to the role of step-parent, you probably have valid concerns about this change in your life.

Combining two different families can be a long and sometimes difficult process. One reason it is so difficult is because, often, a step-parent tries to "parent" too soon or has unrealistic expectations. Don't strive for a totally happy family immediately. These complex emotional adjustments take three to five years and involve many family discussions about how to accommodate each other.

After the first five years, step-families are more likely to last than first marriages. When children witness happy, loving parents they are likely to grow and thrive in the step-family environment. However, there are certain mistakes both children and parents make that can inhibit happiness and cause extra contention.

The following are some things to avoid when combining your family with the family of your new spouse.

1. Don't interfere with the child's relationship with the non-custodial parent

The influence of the "real" mother or father can seem threatening when you are trying to build a relationship with your step-child. However, in most cases the child benefits from this contact. Attempting to replace the biological parent is unrealistic and can cause resentment or confusion on the part of the child.

Encourage contact with the biological parent. At the same time, make yourself available as an adult friend who will listen and act as a sounding board. Eventually, you will build your own relationship as the child learns to see you as a trusted friend.

2. Don't expect to be instantly loved

Neither step-parents nor step-children should expect that they will be accepted right away. These relationships take time. Falling in love with a man or a woman does not guarantee that you will be enthralled by their children or that their children will adore you.

Be patient and respect the fact that everyone has their own time table for forming relationships. Try not to be discouraged if one or more of your step-children does not warm up to you right away. The initial goal must be for step-kin to get to know one another. As family members develop communication skills and an interest in each other, the stage will be set for the development of affection.

3. Don't have rigid expectations about your new family

Preconceived ideas can interfere with an appreciation for the individuality that step-kin bring to the family. Try to recognize that your way of doing things isn't necessarily the "right" way.

Remarriage is a blending of family traditions, resources, and values. Just as newly married couples bring ideas in from their families of origin, step-parents and step-children have personal histories that must be acknowledged and dealt with. Step-families should try to incorporate familiar routines and realize that over time they will develop their own special traditions and rituals.

Forming a successful blended family requires realistic expectations, patience and time. Knowing what to expect and what to avoid will help you reach your ultimate goal; a happy and loving blended family.

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