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Avoiding wrong turns in step-families

In some ways, a stepfamily looks like any other family. However, it is critical for therapists to understand that stepfamily structure creates a fundamentally different foundation upon which to build a family. The good news is that several decades of research and practice tell us a great deal about how to make healthy, thriving stepfamilies. The bad news is that many stepfamily members, and all too many clinicians, do not have this information. In fact, many myths and misconceptions may inform stepfamily members’ expectations and their therapists’ recommendations about the “blending” of families. As a result, both stepfamily members and their therapists make some very common “wrong turns” with sometimes devastating results. Here are two of the “easy wrong turns” that I often see, along with some practical, evidence-based guidance about what does work.

Easy Wrong Turn No. 1: “Make the Couple Primary”

Our Western, first-time family model puts the couple at the center of the family—“If the couple is OK, the children will be OK.” Indeed, a good couple relationship is very important for stepfamily health. It is also true that stepfamily structure makes adult stepcouple relationships quite vulnerable: In a first-time family, children enter their parents’ already-established relationship. They are hardwired for attachment to both parents, and vice versa. In contrast, in a stepfamily, the strong, historical pathways to attachment lie in the previously existing parent-child relationships, not in the adult couple. Established agreements about everything from food to noise to mess to money also lie within the parent-child unit, not in the new couple.

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Zakat eligibility of The FYI

The Family & Youth Institute, or The FYI, is a well-known Muslim organization in the United States. It works to promote mental health and wellness by strengthening and empowering individuals, families, and communities through research and education. It has been working for many years to bring Islamic perspectives to understanding and promoting mental health in our communities.

It is dedicated to serving and supporting Muslims – safeguarding our deen, our families, and our future generations. Therefore, the work of The FYI comes in the category of ‘fi sabeelillah’ or the Path of Allah, within the eight categories where Zakat money can be used.

Zakah expenditures are only for the poor and for the needy and for those employed for it and for bringing hearts together [for Islam] and for freeing captives [or slaves] and for those in debt and for the cause of Allah, and for the [stranded] traveler – an obligation [imposed] by Allah, And Allah, is Knowing and Wise.”
(Al-Tawbah 9:60)

According to scholars who widen the meaning of fee sabeelillah to include any activities that promote Islamic growth, The FYI is indeed eligible to receive part of the Zakat funds for its programs and services. I urge Muslims in America to support this organization through their donations, general charity, and through their Zakat. I ask Allah swt to strengthen and guide The FYI to continue its good work in supporting Muslims.

Shaikh Ali Suleiman Ali, PhD

About Shaikh Ali

Sh. Ali Suleiman Ali was born in Ghana where he spent his childhood studying with various Muslim scholars. He then moved to Saudi Arabia and enrolled in the Islamic University of Madina.  He graduated with a degree in both Arabic and Islamic Studies. Dr. Ali went on to complete his Ph.D. in Islamic Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Sh. Ali serves on the Advisory Council of The Family & Youth Institute. He is the Senior Imam and Director of the Muslim Community of Western Suburbs in Canton, Michigan. Additionally, he serves as the Director of Muslim Family Services in Detroit and is a council member of the Fiqh Council of North America (FCNA). He is also a member of the North American Imams Federation (NAIF) and the Association of Muslim Jurists of America (AMJA).