- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 24, 2007

Parents frequently ask if I have written books on adjective children (e.g. adopted children) or adjective families (e.g. blended families), which indicates they think either that one’s approach to child rearing must be customized to the adjective that fits one’s child or that the rules for operating a family with adjective are different from those for operating a family constituted without adjective.

The truth is that such unique child-rearing formulas and rules do not exist outside of therapy and book publishing, both of which profit from leading the public to think otherwise. A child is a child, and a family is a family.

Unfortunately, books on how to raise the (insert adjective) child and how to operate the (insert adjective) family abound. These books do not clarify anything; they confound. They add to the already overwhelming cacophony of babble that surrounds the relatively simple, straightforward and common-sensical task of raising children, which is why raising children has become the single most stressful and anxiety-ridden thing a woman will undertake in her entire life. (All of the women in my audiences agree.)

Because of said books, many parents think adjectives are more significant than the nouns child and family. These parents think they are raising adopteds and onlys and middles and attention-deficit-disorders and bipolars and learning-disableds and so on, the inevitable consequences of which include adjective anxiety, disciplinary paralysis and atrophy of the common-sense gland.

Needless to say, parents who fit this description also have great difficulty bringing any humor to the child-rearing process.

All children should be raised according to common principles, foremost of which is that parents should balance love and discipline in training children toward becoming productive, responsible members of society. Maintaining said balance requires that a parent’s love be disciplined and that discipline reflect love and desire for the best interests of the child. Common sense wraps itself neatly around the word child; it does not wrap itself at all well around words such as adopted. Adjectives are much more slippery than nouns, after all.

Because a child is a child and a family is a family, the first rule of family living is that the husband-wife relationship trumps all other family relationships. Husband and wife should pay far more attention to each other than they do to the children; they should do more for each other than they do for the children; their relationship should be more active than the relationship either of them has with any child.

In other words, marriage comes before family, and family comes before children in blendeds as well as non-blendeds, Amen.

If the family is headed by a parent who is single, the parent needs to have active relationships outside the family and an array of actively pursued interests that do not include his or her children. This helps the children understand that their relationship with their dad or mom is not a substitute marriage.

A blended wife/mother recently asked me for an example of what she could do to let her daughter know that her marriage came first.

“The next time your daughter asks you for permission to do something,” I said, “tell her that you’ll ask her stepfather about it when he gets home.”

She laughed and said, “That’ll blow her mind.” If so, it’s high time for the blowing to commence.

I spoke with authority on the subject because I was raised in what today is called a blended family. I called my stepfather Dad, I suppose because I intuitively realized that he was more of a father to me than he was a step-anything. Besides, children should not be allowed to call adults by their first names, so anything but Dad was out of the question.

Likewise, I referred and still refer to the children of both my mother’s and father’s second marriages as my brothers and sisters. That made for, and continues to make for, a much simpler view of life, not to mention more rewarding family relationships. That also makes me the oldest child in two families, an honor most people cannot claim.

Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his Web site (www.rosemond.com).

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