Tips help blended families find the right blend
When families "blend" to create stepfamilies, things may not progress smoothly.
"Trying to blend families is the most difficult thing," said Nancy Tracy, MS, local Licensed Professional Counselor. "There is a lot of adjusting, a lot of trial and error and jealousy and resentment in some cases."
The new couple needs to put together a united front, Tracy explained. The foundation of the blended family starts by sitting down before getting married and talking about how the new marriage will work and who is in charge of discipline.
"Children long for their 'nuclear family.' Divorce shatters all their expectations," Tracy said. "Kids are always scarred in some way. It's traumatic, even if leaving is best for the situation."
Tracy encourages parents to avoid speaking ill of the other parent, saying children need to be spared the intimate details of the previous marriage and divorce.
According to helpguide.org (Guide to Step-parenting and Blended Families) some children may resist changes, while parents can become frustrated when the new family doesn't function like their previous family.
It can take a long time for a blended family to begin feeling comfortable and function well together.
"I am currently seeing more than most stepfamilies that are having a great deal of difficulty blending," said Sandra Frith, MA, another locally-practicing Licensed Professional Counselor and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. "From my professional and personal experience with stepfamilies there are many key features to the blending process."
But impatience can be a problem.
"What stands out to me in our blended family and what I don't see currently with stepfamilies who are attending sessions, is the desire to make it work and to move forward," she said. "They want it fixed ... right away, but they are stuck, resistant and angry."
She said her "sacred task" is to get them to see things from each other's perspective. Being consistent with love to all the children and loving them no matter what made a difference in her perspective growing up as a child with her mother and stepfather.
"What I see in my practice is resentment with the stepchildren, the ex-wife, and 'I did not sign up for this,'" she continued. "Furthermore, the children are listening to every bit of the conversation ... so they feel even more 'less than.'"
Tracy believes that working at the step of positive communication makes a transition for positive things to happen and the blending will begin. She recommends a resource and free newsletter to help stepfamilies: blend:www.theblendedandstepfamilyresourcecenter.com.
According to the website, an insight into the top worst mistakes that can be made in blending a family are:
To pretend that nothing has changed
A blended family is very different from a biological family. It takes time for everyone, including the adults, to get used to this new arrangement.
To give biological children special treatment and treat stepkids as second class citizens.
It's crucial that you treat all children, whether biological or step, the same.
To treat your new stepkids as competitors
There should not be any competitions in a blended family.
To erase discipline and structure from your new blended family
Children appreciate structure. Be consistent, keep house rules, develop new rules for your new family, and treat all children, biological and step children-the same. Let the biological parent take the lead in discipline, but let the kids see you as a "united front."
Although laying the solid foundations for a blended family takes time, it gives everyone a chance to get used to each other and used to the idea of marriage.
"With stepfamilies there is a goal in mind ... to blend and often they don't ... not at first anyway," Tracy said. "The key is when they feel their needs are being met, and a system is in place for negotiating the way forward, the blended family is more stable. This means constant communication—positive communication."
Online resource, help.org, gives real-life advice to couples looking at blending their families:
Too many changes at once can unsettle children.
Blended families have the highest success rate if the couple waits two years or more after a divorce to remarry.
Don't expect to fall in love with your partner's children overnight.
Get to know them. Love and affection take time to develop.
Find ways to experience "real life" together.
Try to get the kids used to your partner and his or her children in daily life situations.
Make parenting changes before marrying.
Agree with your new partner how the two of you will parent together. Make any necessary adjustments to parenting styles before marrying. The kids won't become angry at the new spouse for initiating changes and it will make for a smoother transition.
Full details of the advice and more steps can be found at the websites.