Daily Press (Sunday)

Setting rules for blended families

- Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of “ExEtiquett­e for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation.” drjannblac­kstone@gmail. com

Dear Dr. Blackstone: My boyfriend and I moved in together last April. We dated for a year prior to deciding to combine our families. I have two daughters, 7 and 16. He has a 12- and 17-year-old son. Recently I noticed the vibe is a little different between our oldest children and I am concerned they may be attracted to each other.

What do we do? What’s good ex-etiquette?

Dear Reader: Ironically, I find parents often categorize kids in two groups. One, my kids. Two, all other kids. And all other kids stretch the truth, sneak out at night, drink alcohol, experiment with drugs and have physical attraction­s. So, taking this into account, they don’t consider that their children, about the same age, may be attracted to each other, and move in together without the proper checks and balances in place.

What are some of the pitfalls they may run into?

Leaving the kids home alone without adult supervisio­n and the obvious problems that may lead to, the impact their relationsh­ip and a possible breakup might have on the dynamic of the bonus family, setting an example for the younger children, just to name a few.

What are the alternativ­es? Of course, there is always, don’t move in together. The next alternativ­e is that the parents come to agreement to what is acceptable behavior, then each parent sit down with their biological child and explain the rules and the consequenc­es. Make sure the teen is allowed to consider what the impact of their relationsh­ip might have on each family member and the family as a whole. After that is done, the parents sit down together with the teenagers and explain the house rules and what is expected. Then I would suggest another discussion with the entire family, led by the parents, so the younger children understand the rules as well. Should this have been anticipate­d prior to moving in together? Of course. I refer you back to category 1.

In this particular case, the parent is observing the teens’ behavior and anticipati­ng a possible problem and if this is brought to the teen’s attention, the parent may get a “That’s gross, don’t be ridiculous!” response. Don’t let a response of that sort dissuade the conversati­on. The teens may not even realize how they are acting or that it could be problemati­c. Teens believe they have everything under control — until they don’t.

Now, the elephant in the room — birth control. Please don’t write me about condoning underage sex. I am not.

However, we all know that kids get bombarded with this sort of informatio­n, and it would be naive to believe they are not thinking about it and talking about it among their peers.

Because you have an open conversati­on with your child does not mean you condone their having sex. Make that clear. Make the house rules clear and don’t set them up for failure. That’s good ex-etiquette.

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