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Indeed, Markham urges biological parents in blended families to resist the pressure "including from a therapist" to encourage the new partner "to act like a parent." Markham is not alone in voicing serious concern over the power dynamic that can be abused between step/bonus parents and children.
According to family psychologist Patricia Papernow, step/bonus parents should focus on nourishing a healthy relationship with their partner’s children.
"They need time to get used to the idea of a step-parent.
It won't help them to get close to a potential step-parent only to lose them.
(Even when sexual or physical abuse by an older step/bonus sibling is not a factor, children who live with step/bonus siblings are more aggressive.) Yet, most significantly, one must face the difficult truth that the primary cause of harm to children in blended family settings is the unrelated, usually male, adult – brought into the mix through romantic involvement with the biological parent. As a divorced mother of a young boy, I reached out to Dr. Parenting and author of "Peaceful Parent: Happy Kids," for advice.
She shared her top three suggestions to “reduce the risk of sexual abuse/harm post-divorce to children.” Markham strongly suggests the following (I quote her in full below): "Your priority is your child's emotional health, and that means not subjecting your child to a new partner or a series of partners," Markham says.
“Their primary interest is really the adult partner, and they may find themselves more irritated when there's a problem with the children.'' Of course, not all stepparents or “bonus parents” (male or female) struggle to bond or love the children of their new partners.
There are certainly many stories of blended families thriving.
So stabilize your child's life for at least a year before you even think about dating. Deal with that panic, rather than rushing into a relationship.
"Not to throw cold water on the idea that you could find Mr. Right, but rebound relationships famously don't work out and after a divorce is when you are most vulnerable.
It's easy to act while you're swept off your feet by new romance when you're on the rebound, but the real problems will surface later, and it's much harder to get out of a relationship than to get in.
Nonetheless, “children of divorce – and later, remarriage – are twice as likely to academically, behaviorally and socially struggle as children of first-marriage families: About 20 to 25 percent struggle, compared with 10 percent, a range of research finds.” They are also more likely to be hurt.
In their article “Child Abuse and Other Risks of Not Living with both Parents," published in Ethology and Sociobiology, Martin Daly and Margo Wilson note: "If their parents find new partners, children are 40 times more likely than those who live with biological parents to be sexually or physically abused." According to a Missouri-based study of children living in homes with unrelated adults, children are “nearly 50 times as likely to die of inflicted injuries as children living with two biological parents.” These are worrying statistics, both disturbing and scary.
That is “paramount.” She emphasizes this be done through connecting, and not correcting/punishing.