Blended families are on the increase because of the rise in divorce and separation. It is normal to have conflict in any type of family, but blended families face their own unique difficulties and challenges. Many of these challenges are manifested because of how we anticipate the problems when the blended family is formed.
What Is a Blended Family?
The simple definition of a blended family, also called a stepfamily, reconstituted family, or a complex family, is a family unit where one or both parents have children from a previous relationship, but they have combined to form a new family. The parents may be in a same sex or heterosexual relationship and may not have children with each other.
The common problems in blended families.
It is true, blended families can pose difficult challenges, but there are many options when it comes to finding an appropriate solution that works best for your family.
1. Children Have Difficulty Sharing Parents
It is common that blended families have more children. Being used to dividing the mothers love and attention with their sibling, it can be difficult to now have to share their mother with another three stepchildren.
In relation to the reduction in time spent with them, the children often feel that their biological parent should want to spend more time with them than with the stepchildren.
It is possible to resolve this and takes time and patience.
- Prepare the children for the change by having open discussions prior to moving in together.
- Be available to listen, by encouraging your children to express their emotions. Show empathy and patience in your body language and verbally. Acknowledging the difficulty for them having to share you, as well as your own struggles.
- Quality time alone with your children is essential. Tiny pockets of golden time are when valuable discussions happen, on the way to school, at bedtime or taking them out for a hot chocolate. Positive reinforcement daily can boost positivity.
2. Sibling Rivalry
Competition amongst siblings happens and is normal, it becomes a concern when rivalry between non-biological siblings gets nasty.
To deal with this affectively you will have to accept there will be more fighting, secondly remind the children to compete against their own personal best and not each other. Avoid comparing children to one another. “Your sister never argues”. Finally, praise kind behaviour amongst siblings and NEVER encourage rivalry.
3. Identity Confusion
Identity issues can arise when the mom and dad are suddenly primary care givers. Sometimes the children form a stronger bond with the stepdad, which could be confusing for them, or the biological father can become jealous, causing children to feel guilty.
If the mother changes her name it can cause feelings of rejection.
Have open and honest discussions about this early on before the blended family is formed and allow children to speak openly about their emotions. Alerting children about possible change gives them time to process things. If you plan to change your name, talk to your child before you make the change, allowing them once again to express hoe they feel.
4. Mixed Feelings About a Stepparent
In the beginning it is common that the child may feel dislike for the stepparent. This may be caused by fear of being disloyal to the biological parent, or that their mother has been taken from them, seeing the stepparent as an intruder. You can pre-emptively address this issue by speaking with your child about how their feelings might change toward their stepparent, and that it is okay because one will not replace the other. Remind the child that it is okay to still love the biological parent while forming a new bond with the new parent. It helps to explain that this new member will increase their support system.
5. The Challenge of Scheduling
Forming lasting healthy bonds as a blended family is essential for harmony. This can be difficult when the children need to spend time with the parent that has shared custody.
Here are a few helpful things to consider.
- Arrange for all the children to visit their parent on the same weekend. This free’s up the other weekends for family time, allows for one-on-one time for you and your partner, and eliminated the possibility of any of the children feeling like they are excluded from family activities.
- Arrange visits for alternative weekends so that you have 1:1 time with your biological children.
- Implement a family calendar and white board to clearly keep track of everyone’s activities.
- A United front
As you and your new partner embark on this new blended family adventure it is important that you always show a united front. Children can be master manipulators especially when they notice that you as a couple do not agree. If you notice yourself feeling like “piggy in the middle” trying to keep the peace, it is time to take a pause, and talk to your children and your partner about how you are feeling.
Allowing yourself to be pulled in both directions is exhausting and will cause feelings of resentment in the long run.
Discuss parenting values early on before you move in together, setting clear boundaries for everyone involved. Be consistent in how things are managed with routine and rules etc to help everyone feel secure.
Take regular time out away from the children when you don’t discuss anything related to the children, focussing only on one another, have a thorough check in emotionally, make time for sexual intimacy and make sure you stay on the same page.