Blended families refers to families where either or both parent have brought in children from a previous relationship.
Blended families are on the rise as a result of increase in single parents either by choice or circumstances, who later choose to get into marriage. The rate of divorce and separation have gone higher and re-marriage is gaining acceptance. Younger people are getting widowed and choosing marriage later on and this has increased the blended family setups.
Do blended families really blend?
Yes, they do, if they are given the necessary attention whereby the couple involved prepare well enough before entering in the marriage. Unfortunately, most people getting into marriage do not prepare enough for the marriage or family. So much time is spent preparing for the wedding or enjoying the feel good “in love” feeling. but while that is fine, more energy needs to go to the preparation for marriage or family.
Every couple that intends to start a marriage needs preparation. Blended setups need even more preparation. When proper preparation is done, blended families can get as strong as any other families that prepares and works on themselves.
It takes time, even up to several years, for blended families to fully blend. The parents in the blended setup need to understand that blended families are different from the other families and therefore work towards growing themselves to fit into that blended family.
Stages of a blended family.
Stage One: This is where the spouse hopes that the other partner will be a better parent than the previous. The expectation is that children will love the partner as they themselves do to each other. At this stage of blended family however, children hope that their parents will come back together. This stage is filled with many unrealistic expectations and as such, frustration levels are high.
Stage Two: It is the stage where the parent realizes that the step children are not their own and they may never accept or treat them as parents. Children in the blended families feel betrayed to see that their biological parent loves the step parent. This too is a tricky stage with little reality.
Stage Three: This is when each member begins to decide their limits. Children in blended families realize that their parents will stay married to the step parent and the step parent realizes the step children may never treat them as biological parents. Reality begins to set in.
Stage Four: at this point, the members now acknowledge their differences. Both parents in the blended setup work towards strengthening their bond so that they can bring the children to resolve their differences amicably.
Stage Five: Here, members in a blended family learn to accept each other. The couple strengthens their bond and the step parent-child relationship is made better.
Stage Six: Members make intimate relationship with each other. Step parent becomes an intimate outsider. The members feel in harmonious coexistence.
Stage Seven: members feel a sense of acceptance as the earlier issues are and continuously gets resolved.
It is important to note that blended family movement from one stage to another takes information, knowledge and each individual’s input. Many blended families live over 10years and still do not blend in.
What do the children experience in blended setups?
First, the step children experience massive loss because they have already lost one biological parent through separation, divorce, abandonment or death. Each loss is difficult to deal with and as the children join a step parent, they are not sure the step parent will stay or leave just like the biological parent. When a parent decide to get married again, children constantly put the available biological parent in awkward position to choose between them (child/ren) and the new spouse. When this fail to yield, they experience another loss (loss of total attention from their one biological parent). Children need time and support to grieve these many loses.
How should the step parent who comes into a blended family setup behave?
The step parent needs to understand that the partner may be emotionally wounded and may not immediately meet their demands.
The step parent needs to lower their expectation especially on how the children will treat them. You are a constant reminder of their own loss and as such, they may resent you. Do not expect the children to treat you as their biological parent or even call you mum or dad. So long as there is harmony and you are doing your part, let the children be.
The step parent is likely to feel unwanted when the step children consistently interrupt your talk with your spouse (step children are known to sit in-between the two parents as they address their biological parent). Should that be the case, know that is very normal and that the two parents need to find their own talk time.
Step parent needs to know that you will never replace the biological parent irrespective of how good you are; you remain the step parent or additional parent. Just be present and available.
Do not expect to always agree in blended family setup just like in ordinary families where parents do not always agree. So long as there is effective communication, then the blended family is doing well.
What techniques can the step parent employ to fit in blended families?
Keep channels of communication open to enable you share your feelings, thoughts and concerns between yourselves and the step children to the biological parent.
Do not expect too much too soon. Relationships take time to form.
If the step children are old enough, it’s okay to let them know that it is difficult for you as much as it is for them and therefore working as a team will help to blend the family.
Expect to feel rejected and devalued from time to time since you are the only “outsider” in that setup.
If the biological parent is alive, do not fight your way to disconnect the children from their biological parent, discuss healthy ways that the other biological parent and your spouse to co-parent.
Discipline in blended families.
When children are younger than pre-school age, both the biological parent and the step parent can learn healthy methods of disciplining the children. At this point, bonding with the children for the step parent is easier since they are still young. When children are older, allow the biological parent to be the primary disciplinarian since the biological parent has bonded with the children well. Considering that the step parent has not yet emotionally connected to these children, disciplining at this point may increase resentment and make the issues complex.
What makes blended families difficult?
In most circumstances the blended families form when the parents are emotionally wounded and still grieving their previous relationships. The children also are grieving because they have lost one biological parent. The many grieving people are likely to hurt each other unless healing takes place before the blended family begins. Most times, children in blended families seem to resent the step parent not so much because of who the parent is as a person, but because the new parent is a constant reminder of their loss of biological parent’s. This complicates the blended families since grief comes with all negative emotions.
In blended family setup, as the partners come together, roles of the biological parent and those of the step parent are usually not set especially in matters discipline. Blended family setups are likely to have the biological parent and their children gang up against the spouse when conflicts arise.
The parent’s relationship with their biological children predates that of the spouse and therefore at the initial stages, the biological parent is likely to side with their children against the spouse.
There is competition for time and attention by the children to their biological parent especially when the two parents are having their own time.