While the 1968 Lucille Ball film, like the Brady Bunch, was more of an anomaly rather than the rule for their time, blended families are becoming increasingly common. With nearly 50% of all first time marriages ending in divorce, The Bonded Family states that 2,100 blended families are formed in the United States EVERY DAY!! For the first time in history the blended family forms between 1/3 and 1/2 of all families in the United States today, bringing with it equally matched joys and challenges.
What is a Blended Family?
By definition a blended family is a couple and their children from any previous relationships – even if the children only visit part of the time.
As the adults in the blended family it is your responsibility to lead the family in a positive and supportive direction. For instance, presenting a united front is key. The “leaders” of the family need to be on the same page or else you are leaving yourself open for attack (most likely from the teenagers). The kids WILL test your limits, play the parents against each other and try the dreaded “You are not my mom/dad so I don’t have to listen to you”. The best way to combat these inevitable challenges is for you and your partner to be on the same page.
Additionally, this provides a sense of safety, predictability and stability to an otherwise overwhelming and, at times, chaotic situation. This being said, that does not mean you have to agree on everything, that is impossible. Many times it is healthy for parents to model appropriate ways to handle conflict and disagreements. However, when it comes to major decisions it is important that you work together to make them, be consistent with discipline techniques and do not undermine your partner’s authority.
Secondly, make time to nurture the adult relationships. You are partners in crime and it is important that you never lose site of the reasons you created this chaotic, confusing, unique, at times trying, loving, resilient and wonderful amalgamation. According to Rebuilding Families 50% of remarriages end in divorce within the first five years. The way to combat that statistic is to make your relationship, like the kids, a priority. As with any family, once the kids are grown up and gone it will just be the two of you, why not make sure you still like each other when that time comes around.
Additionally, as the adults of the family you are who the kids model their behavior after, measure their relationships by, and learn how to compromise from. If you nurture the relationship between the two of you, your kids will see that love comes in many forms (not just between a parent and a child). They will learn to respect that mommy’s and daddy’s are important too and they will thrive in an environment created by joy rather than tension or distance.
As adults you know how difficult it is to make a blended family work. While it does seem to be an easier transition for younger children, I would like you to put yourself in your children’s shoes. They have smaller bodies and yes they have less life experiences – but they have the same size feelings as you do. They are often confused, frustrated that their life seems to be out of their control and they could feel lost in the shuffle. They feel loyal to their father/mother (the parent not included in the blended family) and can feel that liking and especially LOVING their step-parent would be some level of betrayal. Additionally, the reverse could be true – if they want to be close with their step-parent they feel it necessary to reject the birth parent. There will most likely be times they will “hate you” and tell you that you “ruined their life”. Please remember they are angry and most likely do not hate you and I imagine that your decisions were made with their lives largely in mind, therefore you did not “ruin it”.
As a parent you do not have to agree with your kids’ feelings, nor are they asking you to. They just want to feel heard and considered. I encourage you to make the conscious effort to spend a little alone time with each kid at least once month if possible. This will help them to know that they did not lose you, that you are still there for them, that you want to know how they feel and that you still love them and love being with them as the unique human beings they are. This one-on-one time, though difficult to find time for, will make all the difference when it comes to making a smooth transition.
Counseling can be a huge help during major life changes. While counselors are trained to handle crisis intervention, our main goal is wellness and prevention. If you can get the support before the crisis then you and your family will be better prepared when a challenge occurs. During huge life changes, such as the merging of families, it is important that everyone feels heard and supported in order to ensure the most success. In an ideal world every person in the family would have their own individual counselor (kids included), in addition to family therapy and the adults would go to couples counseling. However, at a minimum I would suggest family therapy and couple counseling if possible. It is OK to ask for help, you do not have to be super hero – blended families are hard. You are not alone.
While there are many issues that confront blended families there can be some huge benefits as well. The family learns tolerance, acceptance and appreciate of differences, interpersonal communication, problem solving and flexibility. At the end of the day it is about the love within the family and the desire and determination to make it work.