Understanding Blended Families: 1
When we think about the meaning of the word “family,” the definition has changed over-time. Often previous romantic relationships are ended and new relationships are formed. These relationships also include the introduction of children from previous relationships. It can be confusing and frustrating for everyone involved in the creation of a “new” family.
A lot of confusion and frustration in blended families comes from individual expectations. A blended family cannot expect to look like each partner’s previous family, nor can they expect children to magically accept the blended family and all of its members immediately without discord.
Successfully bringing two families together takes time, energy, respect, and commitment. It is up to the parents to plan ahead in order to assist children with adjusting to the changes in how their family looks and functions.
Building the Foundation:2
Though most of us are not general contractors, we do understand in order to build any type of home or office a solid foundation has to be established. If this does not occur, grave consequences occur, possibly injuring those involved. This is no different when forming a blended family. Please see the tips below on building the foundation for a new family:
- Don’t make too many changes at once.
- Don’t expect to form immediate loving relationships with your partner’s children.
- Experience daily life with your partner’s children. You need to be able to spend time together when things get “real” versus only during fun events.
- Have a discussion with your partner BEFORE you marry and/or move your family in together. You will not be able to parent how you’ve always known, so have a plan in place of what parenting will look like in your new family. Remember, parenting styles can vary differently
- Remind all involved that you WILL NOT choose one over the other. You want to let everyone know you are committed to having a relationship with them all.
- Set the expectation for respect. People don’t have to like each other in order to show respect. Liking each other can take a lot of time, effort and energy. Don’t give up if it doesn’t happen quickly.
- Think of relationships in your new family as a bank account. You slowly put love, time, and energy into the relationships, which may one day yield quite a “fortune” for you and your partner.
- Make sure you and your partner have created a strong relationship. You are going to need to lean on each other and work closely together to make your family a success.
- Encourage family members to be kind to each other. This doesn’t mean family members have to be best friends; however, they do need to make an effort to respectfully interact with each other.
- Don’t forget to show the children in your family respect. Respect should not be given based on age. Children are people, too, and deserve respect and kindness.
- Respect where each family member is in understanding and accepting their new family. This goes for adults, children and adolescents alike. Each person may be in different stages of understanding and acceptance. This is okay! This is a natural part of blending your family together.
- Remember, there is always time to grow! It may take a few years, but your goal as parents and caregivers is for your family to get to a place where its members want to choose to spend time together.
- Create an environment that creates feelings of safety and protection. Going through the often traumatic situations that lead to the formation of new families is a lot for children to handle. They need to know they are safe and protected.
- Don’t be afraid to show affection. You have to remember to allow time for this process to be fully accepted by children.
- Make sure kids have a role within their new family and that they are respected. Everyone needs and has a job to do. This helps give children ownership over the change process.
- Try to understand children’s perspectives and let them know you understand. Validation can go a long way with children, especially during a lot of change.
- Don’t forget to say thank you. All of us like to know when we are doing a good job and to be encouraged by others. This can help children to better understand their role within their new family.
- Children need limits and structure. This helps them feel that they are cared for and will help them feel safe and secure. “Step-parents” need to take caution in being the one to discipline and set limits, initially; however, they do need to work with the child’s parent to discipline and set limits. This is part of making the parenting plan mentioned earlier.
No matter what the situation is contributing to the formation of a new, blended family, let the children guide the progression of adapting to the new family situation. Make sure you give them time and space to adjust to major changes and give them the opportunity to adapt on their own. If you give them the control to pace the development of their new relationships, they will most likely not feel as distressed.
If you or your family is experiencing difficulty, utilize EAP benefits to seek services from highly qualified, licensed professionals.
If someone you know is experiencing difficulty let them know they are not alone and you are willing to assist them with finding the help they need. Sometimes just knowing you’re not alone is powerful in helping others seek the help they need.
If you or someone you know needs immediate mental health assistance, you can access a local crisis program, such as Lewis Gale Respond (540-776-1100), go to the nearest emergency room, or call 911. Remember, it’s better to get help for yourself or someone else if needed. Getting help is better than the alternative.
Psychological Health Roanoke has qualified and experienced clinicians available to help you and your family.
- Kemp, G., Segal, J., and Robinson, L. (August 2015). Step-parenting and Blended Families. HelpGuide.org retrieved September 22, 2015 from http://www.helpguide.org/articles/family-divorce/step-parenting-blended-families.htm