The days of the nuclear family
, exempt from divorce, appears less normative in our current society. These changes in our family system pose a complex set of transitional difficulties. Today there are tens of millions of blended families.
Most stepparents remarry with the highest hopes and new resolutions for a better life. As you merge two families, differences in parenting, discipline, lifestyle, etc., may be more pronounced and can become a source of frustration for the children. Children divide and conquer parents; blended children are seasoned veterans at this. Becoming a stepparent can be daunting. It is the raw material of fairy tales. However, you do not have to follow the script of the wicked stepmother.
In addition, a second marriage may resurrect old, unresolved anger and hurt from the first one, both for adults and children. I often have said that marriage and parenting just might be the hardest jobs we will ever do. Blending a family, however, is not twice as hard, but three or four times more difficult. It requires more awareness, greater skills, extra patience, added strength and new strategies. The old ones do not work!
Because stepfamilies are assaulted on all sides by difficult and often divisive questions such as:
- How much control should a stepparent have over a stepchild?
- How do you handle the involvement with the nonresidential parent? How much authority should they exert over a child?
- How should a difficult former spouse be handled?
- How does an "our" baby change the emotional dynamic in a stepfamily?
- How do our children, who were best friends before we were married, become sworn enemies?
- What do you do when your child hates your partner?
In addition, stepfamilies have their own natural life cycle. The first few months and years are critical in forming the patterns that will shape the future. It usually takes several years to develop into a family unit. A stepfamily is at greatest risk during the first two years. People who have an insecure attachment history may have problems establishing close, loving bonds with new people. Fortunately, it is never too late to change this tendency.
When blending a family it is important to remember that kids of different ages and genders will adjust differently. The physical and emotional needs of a 2-year-old girl are different than that of a 13-year-old boy, but donít mistake differences in development and age for differences in fundamental needs. Just because a teenager may take a long time accepting your love and affection doesnít mean that he doesnít want it. You will need to adjust your approach with different age levels and genders, but your goal of establishing a trusting relationship is the same.
It is my personal opinion that smart blended families are proactive in ensuring they have the skills and resources for the challenge ahead. Speaking with professionals that have not just read the books but are also living the life of a blended family is a wise decision. While the challenge is great, so are the rewards. You and your partner can learn to:
- Create a culture of trust
- Develop an effective family strategy
- Create a cohesive family unit
- Develop and maintain a unified disciplined front
- Understand the land mines in blended families
- Maintain your marital bond while being challenged by the children
- Deal with extended families
- Navigate the emotional storms of sibling rivalry, grandparents and guilt
- Help your child find a place in the new family
- Learn to be a team
- Set up healthy boundaries
If you are in a blended family and want to learn new strategies, give Bayridge a call. We have been there!