What Every Blended Family Needs to Know

Posted by on Apr 1, 2016 in Healthy Separation and/or Divorce Counseling | Comments Off on What Every Blended Family Needs to Know

How to effectively and successfully manage the realities of life together

Contrary to popular belief, step-families do have a high rate of success in terms of raising healthy children. There is often a negative perception regarding the children of step-families. This is, in part, due to stepparent stereotypes of the “stepmomster,” the “perverted stepdad,” or the “hated stepchild.” Yet, research indicates that 80 percent of children from blended families turn out just fine.

After five years, step-families are actually shown to be more stable than first marriage families. Essentially, if they can get through those first few years, blended families are often very successful. Step-families, on the whole, are not damaging and retain a lot of relational benefits.

However, there a lot of unique challenges that blended families face:

1. The single biggest predictor of remarriage failure is the presence of children from a previous relationship. The truth is, the divorce rate is 50 percent higher in remarriages involving kids than those without. It is not fair to say the kids themselves cause a marriage to fail, but their presence does increase relationship stresses and difficulties for the family as a whole.

2. The children in a blended family often have tremendous power. Kids typically have little or no say in a parent’s decision to remarry. They do, however, have the power to create problems by acting out afterward. Many stepkids reject and are hostile towards their parent’s new spouse, sometimes for a long time, because of loyalties to the other biological parent.

Because kids are the links between two households, they also have the opportunity to create friction. They may go so far as to make comparisons, pass along unkind messages, or even spy. Pre-adolescent or adolescent children are generally the main initiators of conflict in blended families. This can put a remarriage under tremendous strain and cause serious polarization regarding parenting.

3. It doesn’t matter how old stepchildren are when it comes to the stress of remarriage. Feeling loyalty and acting out when a parent remarries is not just reserved for children. Adult stepchildren do these things as well. It is not unusual for adult children to be less than thrilled that their parent has chosen to marry again or to feel negatively toward the new stepparent. They may feel as if they are betraying their own parent if they like or bond with the other parent’s new partner.

Adulthood also adds an extra layer of complexity to those feelings as issues of estate planning and inheritance can create additional friction.

4. Blended families are the most difficult for stepmothers. Kids of all ages resent getting a new stepmother more than a stepfather, adult children included. The resentment also tends to last longer. For example, research finds that more than 50 percent of adult children were happy when their father remarried, but less than 30 percent were happy that their mother remarried. Stepmoms are also likely to be the lightning rods for any unhappiness or anger kids might feel about their parents breaking up.

5. Conflicts between adults are damaging to blended families. Many people assume it is divorce or remarriage that does damage to families, but that’s not really the case. Conflicts between adults have the most harmful impact. Ideally, both biological parents and stepparents involved in a family will form a supportive coalition of sorts to help raise the children. Unfortunately, this rarely happens.

Couples who divorce usually still have a lot of hurt and animosity between them. A collaborative relationship is difficult under such negative circumstances. Expecting former partners who haven’t gotten along in the first place, to now get along for the sake of the kids can be extremely difficult to pull off.

With regards to stepparents, their roles typically do not include much contact with the other biological parent. If a relationship does exist, it is often negative, defensive, or hostile.

All of these conflicts undermine the success of the family. They lead to divisions that can cause emotional and behavioral problems for kids long-term due to stress.

Adults need to be aware and accurately prepared for becoming a blended family. To effectively deal with the realities of life together, biological and stepparents may blend more successfully by following these three strategies:

  • Go into this with realistic expectations. Romantic notions of getting along often get in the way. Pay attention to the real challenges you and your family are facing. Unrealistic expectations actually become a barrier to adjusting well.
  • Treat each other with respect. All relationships: biological, blended, step, sibling, child, and adult deserve consideration. Whatever the connection, things go much better when everyone expects that they will be treated with respect and kindness.
  • Cooperate. Biological and stepparents do well to think and operate collaboratively as a team. Though biological parents have the right to make parenting decisions, it is in everyone’s best interest to keep stepparents involved in the process. In turn, the stepparents help balance that involvement with support and positive engagement.

Keeping the health and happiness of their children in mind, adults can make choices that benefit everyone and ultimately support a successful and well blended family.


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