HEALTHYLIVING: BLENDED FamiliesBecoming a blended family comes with its own special challenges.
By: ElizaBeth A. Carver, Psy.D., L.P., Living North Magazine
Blended families, otherwise known as stepfamilies, are becoming more and more common. As a matter of fact, at least one-third of all children in the United States will be part of a stepfamily before they reach the age of 18. Becoming a blended family comes with its own special challenges; however, there are many ways that parents and stepparents can approach these challenges to make the transition period much less stressful.
First and foremost, realize that change will not happen over night. This will be a time of transition for everyone involved. Most blended families take between two to five years before they fully establish themselves. Therefore, it is very important not to have too high of expectations for yourself, your spouse or the children in the family. Make goals and expectations reasonable and realize that positive change does not occur overnight.
It is also important to realize that all children and adults are different. Children who are under the age of 10 oftentimes adjust more easily due to the fact that they have more daily needs that require attention and tend to be more accepting of new adults. Pre-teens and teenagers may have the most difficult time adjusting to their stepfamily and require more time accepting a new person as a disciplinarian. This age group requires a longer period of time to bond to a stepparent. Teenagers also tend to hide their feelings more regularly and may prefer to talk to their friends rather than family. Therefore, regular one on one check-ins with the biological parent, family meetings and other opportunities to discuss how they feel things are going are important to this age group.
To assist with the new changes, roles and feelings that occur within a family during the early stages of this new transition, it is important for the adults to sit down and discuss values, parenting approaches and important household rules. It is essential for parents to be “on the same page” and present as a solid front for the children. Disagreements regarding consequences, limit setting and rewards shouldn’t be discussed in front of the children, but in private to avoid disagreements between parents. Establishing and posting the house rules for all children will reduce also conflict and will promote understanding and clear expectations. In addition, providing time for the children to voice concerns as well as be provided opportunities to be listened to are essential in a blended family. Family meetings or one-on-one time with a parent can be avenues for this.
Children also require stability, structure and predictability. Formulating routines, structure and daily rituals is the key to making children feel safe and secure. If it is at all possible, attempting to make the routines and structure similar in both homes of each biological parent would maximize success and reduce feelings of anxiety in the children. The use of praise, encouragement, and rewards are also essential for feelings of belonging, appreciation and love.
In addition to clarifying household rules and providing predictability for the children, the stepparent would benefit from spending time learning about the children’s areas of interest as well as increasing positive communication and building an emotional connection with the children. The biological parent should remain the disciplinarian of his or her children, with the step parent focusing more on the formation of a positive relationship. As this relationship increases between the stepparent and the children, the stepparent can gradually take on a more active role in the delivery of rewards and consequences.
In uniting your two families, it is important to remember that both families bring together their own traditions, rituals and values. It will take awhile for the two families to combine into one as both families will have different approaches to holidays, birthdays and other situations. One way to bridge this gap is to try to incorporate new rituals and start new traditions in the blended family. Involving the children in this process will increase communication, empower the children, and allow them to feel more a part of the family.
Spending time as a family engaging in activities is also very important to form relationships and bonds with one another as well as a great way to start traditions and create new memories. Start scheduling a regular family game night, a weekend ritual of hiking or biking or movie night. These family activities should be encouraged, even if some “grumblings” are heard from older children. Request their input for activities and their participation will increase. It is also important for the biological parent to spend one-on-one time with their children. This time alone will support and encourage the child as well as reduce any feelings of jealousy or displacement by other stepchildren. Both parents should be encouraged to spend time alone with their own child or children.
In addition to focusing on the children and family dynamics, it is essential for the couple to spend their own time together on a regular basis. Having a date night or meeting regularly for lunch will nurture the marriage. It is essential for the children to view the parents being supportive and emotionally close to one another. Blended families cannot be forced to bond or fit anymore than a garden can be forced to grow. Parents and stepparents create the best possible “growing conditions” by providing safety, structure, shared fun, sincere interest and love. The rest takes patience - and time.
This Article was brought to you by the licensed mental health professionals at Arrowhead Psychological Clinic, P.A. You can reach them at (218)723-8153 or e-mail email@example.com.