Saturday 27 September 2014

Discord in step-families: More seek support

Counselling and other schemes help parents, kids cope with remarriage
By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 26 Sep 2014

MORE step-parents and stepchildren struggling to adapt to their new families are coming forward to seek help.

With more people here remarrying after a divorce, there has been a rise in the number of step-families - family units where there is at least one child not born to both the husband and wife.

One quarter of marriages last year involved at least one previously wedded partner, compared with 20 per cent 10 years earlier. For Muslim marriages, the figure was 30 per cent.

Voluntary welfare organisation Persatuan Pemudi Islam Singapura (PPIS) yesterday held the first national conference to examine the needs of step-families.

Its president Rahayu Mohamad said: "This conference is significant as we are not addressing just a Malay community issue, but a matter that is becoming increasingly prevalent in Singapore."

PPIS said it had seen more couples seeking help, although it was unable to provide figures.

PPIS Vista Sakinah is the only specialised centre here that helps step-families.

Since it was launched in 2011, it has assisted more than 12,000 people.

Most of them remarried within one to two years of a divorce and had two to three children on average from previous marriages, according to Ms Fazlinda Faroo, the centre's manager.

At Fei Yue Family Service Centres, 35 per cent of the cases handled by their social workers involve step-families.

Five years ago, these cases made up a quarter of the total.

Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing said step-families can be more vulnerable to financial, parenting and marital upheavals than traditional nuclear families.

In a speech at yesterday's event, he said: "Unlike fresh families, reconstituted families all come with their own emotions, baggage and history, so counselling and preparing the families to start afresh again can be very challenging."

For example, children might not get along with their step-siblings, or they might blame the step-parent for the divorce and refuse to submit to the step-parent's authority.

Ms Rachel Lee, senior assistant director of Fei Yue Family Service Centres, said: "The children might compare the step-parent with their biological parent and face adjustment issues."

The newly wedded couple might also have to contend with former spouses.

Having to support more children presents a financial challenge as well.

Ms Fazlinda said: "Negotiating expectations, demands and differences in family practices and values is one of the core challenges as they form a step-family."

Currently, PPIS Vista Sakinah runs programmes, workshops and support groups for those planning to remarry or who are already part of step-families.

Fei Yue Family Service Centres also provide counselling and financial aid.

Ms Lee said more can be done, especially in preparing couples and children for the huge transition involved in integrating into a new family.

She said this step is as important as premarital counselling, noting that "just addressing problems after they occur" is inadequate.

Remarriage that eventually fell apart
By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 26 Sep 2014

WHEN "Alina", 48, and her husband took a leap of faith to remarry, they brought along with them not only emotional baggage, but also five teenage children in tow.

She has three daughters from her previous marriage while her technician husband has two boys. The couple also have a daughter of their own.

All six children are aged between 15 and 22. When they all moved into a four-room Choa Chu Kang flat, they felt like strangers to one another.

The two boys and three girls would not interact as both camps blamed each other's parent for landing them in their predicament.

Whenever Alina tried to discipline the boys, they would retort with rude remarks such as "Shut up! Who do you think you are? You are not even my mother." At such times, Alina would not persist in disciplining them as she felt guilty and helpless that the boys did not have their mother by their side.

Parenting issues aside, she also grappled with marital and financial troubles. She found it ironic that her former spouse contributed more to support her new family than her husband did.

But when she found out why his finances were stretched, she became hysterical. It turned out that he had had several affairs in the past and was supporting a family in Batam.

She sought help from Ms Rachel Lee, senior assistant director of Fei Yue Family Service Centres, who counselled her two years ago. The centre also tided her over with some financial aid.

Alina eventually separated from her second husband and moved out with her three daughters.

Ms Lee said: "When adults divorce, they do have needs to be met and so they enter into a new relationship.

"But it is important for them to think about the impact on the children and prepare themselves and the young ones for another big transition."

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