... three factors ... significantly contribute to closeness in stepfamilies:
- The couple keeps arguments to a minimum
- Mothers help children feel comfortable sharing their frustrations
- The stepfather and mother agree on how to parent
From the children's perspective, frustrations occur when the new dad assumes too much parental authority or when he disrupts the family's normal way of doing things.
"Moms need to let their children know that it's ok to talk if they have a problem with their stepfather because everybody is still trying to figure out this new family dynamic," Shafer said.
"Full-blown arguments set up stepfamilies for failure," Shafer said.
Couples typically make one of two mistakes in the transition. The first type involves the couple acting as though nothing major has changed -- that the new father is a replacement instead of an addition. The second type of mistake is for mom to take upon herself all of the parenting.
The common thread in both scenarios is that the children's voices are missing.
"If you have teenagers, they should be a pretty active participant in discussions of what the family is going to look like and how the family is going to function," Shafer said.
The study contains one pleasant surprise: Communicating openly and avoiding arguments contributes to closeness regardless of family income or education level. [emphasis mine]