Many of today’s families look like The Brady Bunch. To make a blended family work, it takes a plan, patience, creativity, and give and take.
What is a blended family?
When you think of a blended family, it’s probably The Brady Bunch. It’s guaranteed that in real life, your blended family will be much more challenging.
Half of the children in the U.S. are being raised in blended families, and 1,300 new stepfamilies are formed every day, according to the University of Houston.
The two biggest concerns are that children in blended families are at higher risk of living in high-conflict homes, and more than half of second and third marriages end in divorce because of the difficulties of bringing children from different marriages together.
Pulling a new family together from disparate pieces isn’t easy. There are so many reasons blending may not work. The kids are likely grieving a divorce and may feel alienated by their new family.
Stepparents want to be seen in a positive light and, so, may be lenient when kids need guidance and discipline the most. Or, kids who are used to being the center of attention by guilt-ridden, divorced parents have problems with adjusting to rules set by a new stepparent.
The key is that none if this has to happen.
How to make a blended family work
“All you want is for everyone in your new household to get along, right?” writes psychologist and TV personality Phil McGraw. “Of course it will take work to figure out how your new family unit will handle money, discipline, childcare and any other issues that you haven’t mutually agreed upon yet. It can be an uphill climb at first, but it’s doable once you have a plan.”
Besides a plan, which includes each parent’s defined role in the relationship, you should put yourself in the kids’ shoes, have discussions with your spouse outside an argument, stop complaining and be specific about your needs, and agree on discipline strategies for the kids, McGraw advises.
He adds that you need to create a personal relationship with your stepchildren, support your spouse’s relationship with his child, and form an alliance with your former spouse that is mutually supportive and, so, supportive for your kids in their new family.
As challenging as life in a blended family is, the upside is that there are many chances for positive interactions you never dreamed of.
"Most stepparents genuinely grow to feel affection for the kids in their care, and the kids usually learn to accept and return the affection," therapist Judy Osborne, director of the Stepfamily Association in Brookline, Massachusetts told Parents.com. "And because you have to work hard in a stepfamily to build relationships, it often ends up that everyone learns a lot about trust, safety, and love."
Dealing with the unpredictable
The most unpredictable part of the blended family mix could be how well the kids deal with one another, even when you’ve made plans and applied logic and affection.
“The truth is, many children consider new stepsiblings a nuisance or even a threat,” writes Parents.com. “Your 2-year-old may feel dethroned if she finds herself living with a cute 1-year-old brother, and your 4-year-old may resent the fact that his kindergartner stepsister gets to color on the big-kid worksheets.”
The best way to address that is to treat the new arrangement as a “family within a family.” You and your own kids still need to spend time together.
At the same time you need to keep in mind that things can’t always be equal, no matter how hard you try. That’s the reality of multiple homes and a lot of people involved in each kid’s life. One may receive a gift, another won’t. That’s blended family life.
A blended family is still a family, and that is a fount of strength. The more you parent a blended family, the more experience and confidence you gain. You’ll make mistakes, and, hopefully, learn from them, but at the center of everything you do is a well-adjusted happy family.
Some of what you learn along the way is the importance of consistency. “Creating family routines and rituals help unite family members. Decide on meaningful family rituals and plan to incorporate at least one into your blended family. They might include Sunday visits to the beach, a weekly game night, or special ways to celebrate a family birthday.”
February 28, 2020
Janet O’Dell, RN