Any parent can tell you it’s not easy to raise a unified, happy family. But for blended families, or “stepfamilies,” there is an extra load of issues and potential complications that can arise. The children are thrust into a new dynamic, while the newly appointed parent may struggle with finding their place as an authority figure, confidant, and overall family member.
Therefore it’s no surprise divorce rates are higher in re-married, blended families.
First, for anyone unfamiliar with the term, blended families result when two partners make a life together with children from previous relationships. In a lot of cases, the kids lived for a period with both original (usually both biological) parents. The change can shake them and leave them feeling disgruntled and disconnected so extra sensitivity is needed when dealing with these cases.
Effort for the new relationship to work largely falls on the adults. The children have limited life experience and will need kind, careful guidance through this stage in their lives.
Remain open-minded to change. Obviously, this is good for the kids, but the adults involved need to remember life will be different living with non-family members who aren’t their partner
Plan and communicate
It’s paramount to have some kind of plan for starting a new life with new family dynamics. Some individuals blind themselves before entering into this type of relationship, romanticizing what it will be like. When hardship arises they sometimes experience regret.
With planning comes the need to communicate. Upfront articulate discussions can foster a sense of unity and purpose, and make the difference between a real family instead of a mere “living arrangement.” First, this discussion can be held between significant others, but eventually, the children should be included and have their points of view heard.
It won’t be a cakewalk. It may be useful for significant others and children alike to lower expectations. It’s likely the families won’t blend with zero friction - it’s hard work with a lot of competing forces like exes, conflicted loyalties, and emotional confusion. Additionally, different kids will have different wants and needs.
Here are a few tips we’ve compiled as a guideline to consider when entering a blended family.
Create family rituals. Restaurant night, movie night, going to kids’ sports games and after-school activities - doing these regularly creates a sense of togetherness and shows the kids they’re cared for and everyone can still have fun in this new situation.
Set parenting duties as well as boundaries. Biological parents might remain in a primary authoritative role, and stepparents are less upfront. Gradually, the biological parent will get comfortable giving some responsibilities to the stepparent. And keep an eye on the kids! Children often resist a new authority figure.
Honesty can go a long way. Be upfront, admit the new person is not their mother or father, but they are loved by their mom/dad and are part of the family now. This shows the kids there’s nothing being hidden from them or misrepresented.
Don’t let children be in charge of the family or the kinds of relationships you have. At the end of the day you are an adult and over time, in most cases, the children will warm up to the situation.
Meet children where they are. Don’t oblige them to do what you did as a kid, or what the other partner’s kids like to do. Instead do what they’re interested in! If they like music take them to a concert, if they like science take them to a museum. This will create engaging, bonding experiences.
Go slowly - take your time to figure out what works. Let everyone become comfortable with one another. Blended families usually don’t settle into comfort overnight.
When entering into a blended family, family therapy is highly recommended. A qualified mental health professional can provide assistance with mental health concerns along the way (of which there are usually at least a few), and with the family planning. They have experience dealing with this kind of thing and can provide insights to make the transition smooth.
If you need help in this type of situation, you can feel confident reaching out to Bregman Medical Group. We’ve been helping families for decades as well as treating a multitude of disorders. We provide online psychiatry and therapy right to your device! Anywhere in the US you can schedule an appointment online at www.bregmanmd.com or call 305-740-3340.