ADJUSTING TO BEING A BLENDED FAMILY
Many families these days are “blended.” That is, for various
reasons, the family is now composed of people coming from previous
relationships who find themselves in a new family composition involving
children (their own and/or those of their partner). Becoming a
step-parent means one has an “instant” family—but what does that mean?
Starting a marriage or partnership without children is challenging
enough, but finding ways smoothly to create a new family that does
include children can be difficult at times.
For instance, there are the complexities of all the new relationships
(and old ones) to settle into (or resolve). There are many different
people who will be adjusting to all the changes, such as new in-laws
& new extended family, while still maintaining connections to former
family—such as ex-partners, other siblings living elsewhere,
grandparents, etc. This can be very confusing to the adults and the kids
alike. How does the couple communicate with the “other” parent? Are
the children living with you full time, part time or coming on a
visitation schedule? Do some kids live with you while others “visit”?
Who keeps up with the schedule for all the comings and goings — and does
the communicating with the “other” family?
One comes into such a partnership with many expectations and
feelings. Sometimes partners do a wonderful job of traversing the many
complicated processes that take place as a new family creates itself.
But other times, people find themselves disappointed or anxious that
what they had hoped for and expected is not what is happening. Children
may display unexpected loyalty to the “other” parent or sometimes not
feel like cooperating in making the adjustments for other reasons.
Partners who originally felt they could manage it all may suddenly
discover they have problems they didn’t foresee.
One of the most challenging aspects of being a step-parent is how (or
even whether) to share the discipline of the children. Kids who are
part of a newly blending family were already used to a style of care
that made sense to them. Now that there is someone new who will most
likely have his or her own ideas about how to be a parent, the kids may
(sometimes) feel confused, angry, resentful, or rebellious toward the
efforts of the new step-parent. On the other hand, a new step-parent
may become exceedingly discouraged, if she or he feels no ability to
have input into child-raising rules and decisions.
How does a new step-parent discipline a child s/he doesn’t know
well? How does the couple work that out? How does a new couple stay
consistent with what the children have always experienced, especially
when two groups of children are being brought together who have
previously had very different parenting styles?
This is a good time to consider therapy—either couples’ therapy for
help in sorting out all these unexpected issues by themselves, or if the
situation has become more serious, family therapy can address the
concerns in a more direct fashion. Couple, family or group therapy can
be very useful for establishing an improved family connectedness in the
middle of all the changes and forming a more cooperative family life
Kathi Whitten, LCSW copyright 2010