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The Need to Belong

The second need the Vishers found that is hard-wired in each of us is (2) the need to belong. This is a tough one when it comes to stepfamily living because someone is genetically removed from other family members.

But while there's no way around this fact of stepfamily life, there are things you can do to create an environment where a sense of belonging has a chance to develop. Remember the 3Rs; rules, roles and responsibilities … we discussed them a few months back. The 3Rs create structure and in doing so create safety and security in a stepfamily. Thus, lowering anxiety and giving stepfamily members a chance to feel as if they do belong.

Here's a recap of the 3Rs:

  1. Rules. Simply expectations for the household, establishing rules clearly communicates to all stepfamily members—including yourself—what's acceptable behavior and what's not.
  2. Roles. Acknowledge the role each family member plays. The stepparent is the stepparent, the parent is the parent, and the child is the child. Discuss how each will be defined in your stepfamily and proceed slowly. Stepfamily life takes time to evolve with leading stepfamily researcher Patricia Papernow, EdD indicating it can take an average of seven years for a stepfamily to integrate where members experience intimacy and authenticity in these relationships.
  3. Responsibilities. This is not a repeat of the rules above. Instead, this refers to each family member’s responsibility to both themselves and to each other. All stepfamily members have the responsibility to show respect to others. From here the responsibilities become more role specific. For example, the stepparent is responsible to model the behavior they would like in return, to their partner and to themselves. The degree of responsibility to the stepchild is not a given; rather it is determined by the couple. And finally the parent has responsibility to their partner to make their relationship a priority, to their child to create a loving and nurturing environment and to themselves. They also have a responsibility to their child's other biological parent to co-parent in a healthy manner. 

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