Ted Simons: It won't be long before the majority of American families are step families according to the author of a new children's book on the subject. I recently spoke with Pamela Chambers, author of "My Mommy's Getting Married" and a counselor who works with step families.
Ted Simons: And Pam, thanks so much for joining us on "Horizon."
Pamela Chambers: Thank you for having me, Ted.
Ted Simons: What do kids need to know about step family life?
Pamela Chambers: Well, step family life is very different than traditional family life. Just because you have a step parent coming in that doesn't have a lot of trust and rapport already built with the step child. So it can create different dynamics. And the architecture is actually very different because when you have a normal first-time family, the tightest bond is between the parents, mother and father. Step family situation, the tightest bond is between the biological parent and the biological child. And then the step parent is kind of coming in from the outside, so he's coined of the outsider, the step parent.
Ted Simons: And that talks to loyalty issues that you see, in your practice as well as what you try to address in the book, correct?
Pamela Chambers: That's correct, there's a loyalty binding issue that is really big for children and when they come in to spend time with the step parent, to like a step parent, love a step parent, feels to a child like they're betraying their biological parent. So that's the big issue. Parents need to have repeated loyalty bind talks with their children to help them be more accepting of the step parent.
Ted Simons: Is that always the case? Do you find the vast majority of cases you find that competition?
Pamela Chambers: Yes, when the step parent comes in the child is in competition with the step parent for the biological parent's attention. And that's another huge issue for the child.
Ted Simons: So with that in mind, you write the book, what were you trying to get across in the book? What are you trying to tell the little minds that are now facing this family disruption or family clay I should say.
Pamela Chambers: That's correct, what I'm trying to tell the children, there's two very important things that biological parents can do to help adjust so step family life. Those two very important issues are number one, have repeated loyalty bind talks and those sound like this, ok, this isn't your dad. He's not trying to take the place of your dad. But, you know, you have to respect him. Ok. And our hearts are pretty big and one day you might care about him. You may not. But you do have to respect him.
Ted Simons: You may care about him but you may not. Some would say wow, that's borderline negative talk. How do you get that information, keeping it real, without getting too negative?
Pamela Chambers: Well, they have to understand the child needs to be able to accept him, and when the step parent comes in the child really doesn't like the step parent, ok, they're in competition with him. So you tell the child, ok, this is my choice, it wasn't your choice. You don't have to like him. You don't have to love him. You just have to respect him. And then the trust and rapport have to build and that's the job of the step parent, to step in and start building that trust and rapport by building a friendship with him first.
Ted Simons: Can you have so much of that communication that it almost circles around the other side and it becomes counterproductive?
Pamela Chambers: What do you mean?
Ted Simons: Well, by asking some of these questions, can you take a mind that wasn't necessarily going in a certain direction and start making it think more about its biological parent or competition or something along those lines?
Pamela Chambers: No, what you're trying to say is that are you going to put bad ideas into the kid's head?
Ted Simons: That's what I'm trying to say, yes.
Pamela Chambers: No, not at all. What you're doing is opening the door for conversation for the child. Because if he is feeling that way he'll have the opportunity to discuss that. It's kinds of like saying if you hire a teacher who's gay you're going to teach the child to be gay, no, it's not going to happen.
Ted Simons: Yeah, I guess -- before we leave that point, I think the idea is that sometimes kids will accept maybe more than adults or parents think they will accept, and you can question almost a child so much that you may veer him or her into different areas of thinking. Does that --
Pamela Chambers: Oh, makes total sense because I've had people comment on the book, they're afraid you might be putting bad ideas into a kid's mind. But the main issue of the focus of this book is the loyalty bind talks and biological parent spending one on one time with the child. Those are the two most important issues.
Ted Simons: What do families need to know overall families need to know about step family culture?
Pamela Chambers: That it's totally different than first-time family and just with a lot of with not much education you can make it go a whole lot smoother, the transition.
Ted Simons: The book itself is targeted for little people aged.
Pamela Chambers: Three to seven years of age.
Ted Simons: Three to seven.
Pamela Chambers: Right. Just so you know, by 2010 it will be the most prevalent family in America, research done at strategic management advisors, and that's where this book came from, through the research done at strategic management advisors.
Ted Simons: So with the research and your experience along these lines, the most common thing you see when you deal with step families who are having a little bit of trouble getting along, what -- is it that loyalty issue?
Pamela Chambers: The loyalty issue, but also the step parent comes in and starts discipline too quickly, it will backfire every time.
Ted Simons: Interesting. So watch it with the heavy hand at first.
Pamela Chambers: That's correct. Because you have to give the child time to develop trust and rapport with you, before you can start to discipline and the child may never accept your discipline and you should be ok with that.
Ted Simons: Wow. Last question, it's not all the Brady bunch out there, is it?
Pamela Chambers: No, it's not. Unfortunately it's not. But I think an understanding of the different dynamics of what a step family is all about, because the architecture is so different than first-time family. And it's important to know that and a few basic rules you can help the transition go a whole lot smoother.
Ted Simons: All right. Pam, thanks for joining us. We appreciate it.
Pamela Chambers: You're very welcome, Ted, thank you for having me and getting this important information out to the public.
Ted Simons: You bet.
Pamela Chambers: Ok.
Ted Simons: And that's it for now, thank you so much for joining us, I'm Ted Simons. You have a great evening.