Suzanne W. Keenon, MA, LCPC
The blended family is very common today.
Forty percent of married couples with children (i.e., families) in the US are stepcouples (at least one partner had a child from a previous relationship before marriage; this includes full and part-time residential stepfamilies and those with children under and/or over the age of 18). The percentage of all married couple households is 35% (Karney, B.R., Garvan, C.W., & Thomas, M.S., 2003)
How do we combat these statistics? We become aware of the myths and the facts, so we can make decisions that will build blended families that will thrive.
The myth is the blended family bonds quickly.
The truth is, it requires an enormous amount of time, an enormous amount of work, and an enormous amount of love and self-sacrifice. The following suggestions will help your two families blend more easily.
1. Form relationships.
Get to know each child before you even start thinking about the discipline aspect of this new relationship. The biological parent should do the disciplining in the beginning. Spend time with each child getting to know their likes, dislikes, fears, hopes, and dreams. Allow them to choose the activity and participate with little criticism or comment. Children respond more quickly when they feel accepted, safe, secure, and loved.
Do not try to be a replacement for their biological parent. Honor the absent parent. They may be grieving this relationship and resent the time you spend with their mother or father. You may be ready for a new relationship but they may not. They were not looking for a new parent, you were.
2. Give them space.
The best move is into a house that is new for both families. There is no new stranger encroaching on anyone’s turf. If this is not possible, give each child their own room if you can. Children need their own space to process and to have some alone time.
Forcing children to room with others who only a short time ago were total strangers is very stressful.
3. One-of- a-kind.
Assist each child as they find where they “fit” in this newly created family. A son, for example, who used to be the oldest may now be the youngest. He may find it difficult adjusting to losing his position in the family structure. Continue to spend time with your biological children that is separate from your new children to remind them how much they are loved.
If you treat all the children as if they were all the same, they will lose their uniqueness and the feeling that they are special.
4. Lower expectations.
Give this process lots and lots of time. Start establishing the relationship with all the children long before you remarry. On average it takes two to four years to establish family history. Do not expect them to immediately love this new parent who is now competing for your time and affection. Many children lose a parent to death or divorce. They may have had to change homes, schools, and churches. Their support system that consisted of their sports team, youth group, or grandparents may be too far away to visit as often. It takes time to adjust to all of these changes that have turned the lives of your children upside down.
5. Make new traditions.
Create experiences that involve all members of the new family. Take some traditions from each family and blend them into new traditions that are unique to the newly formed family. This creates feelings of belonging. Establishing your own traditions communicates to all the children, you are accepted and loved.
Karney, B.R., Garvan, C.W., & Thomas, M.S. (2003). Published report by the University of Florida: Family Formation in Florida: 2003 Baseline Survey of Attitudes, Beliefs, and Demographics Relating to Marriage and Family Formation. These findings were replicated in two other state representative samples.